- Associated Press - Friday, June 13, 2014

INMAN, Kan. (AP) - Custom cutter Larry Schroeder should be at Kiowa right now with his three combines and handful of employees.

But his equipment is still parked at his Inman-area operation. The farmer at Schroeder’s first stop on the harvest trail - Electra, Texas - canceled because of drought and hail. Now the 950-some acres he would normally be harvesting around the Barber County border town have been zeroed out by adjusters.

“We’re just waiting around for our next job, which is western Kansas,” the longtime harvester said earlier this week, noting that with the machinery ready for harvest and little preparation still to do, his employees are restless - ready to get started on the trip north.

Schroeder Harvesting isn’t the only crew that skipped out on Kiowa, typically the first place in Kansas wheat is harvested each year. The lack of custom cutters in southern Kansas is just one discouraging sign of the state’s drought-stressed wheat crop. The annual wheat harvest is just getting started at Kiowa’s OK Co-op Grain Co., and General Manager Steve Inslee admits no one is getting too excited this year, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1pAsJYk ).

“I think the insurance companies will harvest more than the combines will,” he said.

The cooperative took in about 6,000 bushels of wheat last week before rain halted machines. Inslee already has lowered the company’s previous harvest estimate.

“Last year we took in a half-crop, and I’d be happy to take half of that,” he said. “If we get a quarter of what we took in (last year), we’d be lucky.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting this year’s wheat harvest to be the worst in 20 years, marred largely by drought, as well as winterkill and freezing temperatures in May.

The Ag Department’s Risk Management Agency already has earmarked to pay more than $14 million to Kansas wheat farmers for their failed wheat crop.

Schroeder said he would harvest just 16 percent of his usual acres from Texas through Kansas. He has missed trips to Texas before because of poor crops, but it is the first time he has missed both Kiowa and Texas. Meanwhile, drought conditions are significant at his next stop around Johnson and Ulysses in southwest Kansas, as well.

Schroeder said he is hopeful for better prospects on the trail north to North Dakota, but he noted that hail damaged the crop at his stop in Colorado.

Other custom cutters are in the same situation.

“I think it is going to get tight for some,” Schroeder said of the financial sheet, but added it will depend on what areas their clients are in and who received rain.

Some will try to find other stops to make up the shortfall, he said, but added, “Everyone is going to be looking, and it is not out there.”

Now, the issue isn’t as much drought as it is rain, which has hampered the start of harvest. It comes too late to help the wheat, and Inslee said test weights were decent before the showers but now he fears quality will decline.

After a season of few showers, Kiowa has received about 4.5 inches over the course of a week. Some areas north, however, haven’t even received an inch, Inslee said.

At Central Prairie Co-op based in Sterling, General Manager Joe Schauf said the June rains would help what fall crops have been planted.

And, in this area, rain could also still help the wheat crop fill, helping boost test weights.

It won’t be a bumper wheat crop, said Schauf, but it won’t be as bleak as southern and western Kansas. There could be 40-bushel-an-acre wheat in some areas.

“We’ll probably see some 10-bushel, too,” he said. “I know there is some that the insurance zeroed. We’ll be all over the board.”

Harvest in Reno County probably will get rolling by the middle of next week, if not earlier, he said.


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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