Some Kansas farmers have already begun to harvest their wheat, but farmers in the Manhattan area are planning to start as early as Thursday, said K-State agriculture extension agent Greg McClure.
McClure said harvest is beginning about a week later than what is normal for the area.
“If you go back in our history, our varieties have changed to where harvest has moved up a week to 10 days earlier than usual,” he said. “When we were kids, we were always harvesting over the Fourth of July and in recent years we’ve been done by the fourth. However, this year we won’t be.”
According to the 2012 estimates from Kansas Agricultural Statistics, last year Riley County planted 20,000 acres of wheat and harvested 19,200. Surrounding counties, such as Marshall, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee and Clay planted varying amounts of wheat but yielded somewhat proportional amounts similar to Riley County’s harvest.
“Pretty much all that gets planted will get harvested in Riley County,” McClure said. “We’ve had good conditions for the last three to four years even though those south of Manhattan have felt the drought more and have been drier than the north of the county.”
However, dry, windy and hot weather can be most profitable for farmers around harvest time as long as they act quickly when the time is right.
“In Kansas our wheat doesn’t really mature, it just reaches a certain point, then gets fried by the heat,” McClure said. “Anything above 82-degrees hurts the wheat; it shuts down and dries out.”
The wheat harvest last year was three weeks ahead of schedule because of the warm winter.
However, this year’s crops may have been affected by the snowfalls into April and May.
Despite this year’s strange winter, McClure expects “good yields and little disease.”
So far farmers have not reported the usual Wheat Streak Mosaic or Rust that can damage entire fields, which gives many students the opportunity to stay busy helping farmers pick their crops over the summer.
“I think in Kansas it is pretty common for students to spend their summers helping on a farm,” Welker said. “A lot of kids are from small towns and in the Midwest this is common; it is good for everyone to come out here and work because you only get a crop if you put the work in and use the right equipment and sprays.”
Harvest is underway as near as Hutchinson, where college students are working on harvest crews.
“We started last Thursday. The process usually takes us 10 days,” said Jenny Welker, who has spent the last eight years helping harvest 2,000 acres of wheat with Fountain Farms in Hutchinson. “We probably have five to six more days of good, solid cutting.”
Welker, a 22-year-old K-State student, claims she’s always been a “farm kid at heart.”
“This year’s wheat is decent,” she said. “It’s pretty thick, the heads aren’t tremendously big and the bushels aren’t awful; it isn’t the worst or best I’ve ever seen.”
The time daily harvest starts depends on how much moisture is in the air and how wet the wheat is, she said, but it is common to expect at least a 12-hour work day when harvesting wheat.
“You literally reap what you sow,” Welker said. “It instills really good values, hard work and patience.”