Gary Parker can’t remember when in late April planting full-season soybeans wasn’t on his mind.
This year, though, he sowed wheat on most of his cropland — more than 500 acres — and so far has no regrets. Severe weather could sour things in a flash, but right now “the wheat looks really good, and the price is terrific,” Parker said.
Friday, wheat locally was $8.24 a bushel, a price no farmer a few years ago would have thought possible.
Kansas shares major wheat production with several Midwestern states, but elsewhere the crop isn’t getting the rave notices it is in southeast Kansas.
“Oklahoma’s is about 65 percent bad, Texas isn’t much better and there are drought problems in parts of western Kansas and Colorado,” Parker said.
Having so much lush, green wheat waving in the breeze — it is that tall in most places — isn’t the only agricultural refit on the Parker farm.
This also is the first time in years that Parker has planted corn.
“We have 75 acres of corn up and sprayed,” he said, a timely outcome that is replicated throughout Allen County.
Asked whether others in the Parker neighborhood, five miles south of LaHarpe, have their corn in: “They should have. We’ve had good weather and plenty of time,” he said.
MARVIN LYNCH, at Piqua Co-op, figures at least 95 percent of the corn in his service area, which includes much of Allen County, has been planted. With moisture in the seedbed and soil warm enough for germination, the two leaves of new corn plants are waving like tiny green banners most everywhere.
Rain that arrived Thursday afternoon was a blessing.
“We needed it to activate the chemical” that’s been sprayed over the emerging corn, Lynch said. The “chemical” is herbicide that corn ignores but is a bane for weeds.
Parker knows the importance of a timely rainfall — but almost anytime is right in drought-prone Kansas.
“That’s the scary part of farming,” said Parker. “We all know that we could have a drought. That would be devastating with input costs being so high” — planting an acre of corn costs well over $200 an acre.
But, as things stand today, the economics of farming are as smooth as silk.
“Farming is about the only business that the recession hasn’t hurt,” Parker said.
Much of the cost of farming weaves its way in one way or another to oil, which is hovering around $107 a barrel.
Tractors needed for planting and combines for harvest have an almost insatiable thirst for fuel and the costs of fertilizer and chemicals also are affected, either from being a derivative or by manufacture and transportation.
THE PAYOFF for wheat will come a couple of months ahead of other cash crops.
Wheat isn’t the only crop on the cusp of a historic high. Lynch noted that corn had been fetching better than $7 a bushel at Piqua and harvestime contracts had been taken at about $6 by some farmers. The contract price is a hedge, for both marketers and farmers. The price usually drops when harvest sends millions of bushels of grain flowing into the system, but could advance if widespread problems surface to suppress yields.
Corn planting is at about 7 percent complete nationally, which is less than a third of what is expected by late April.
“We’re about done, but Kansas isn’t nearly as big a player in corn as several other states,” Lynch pointed out.
Late snow and other weather problems, including flooding, have kept corn farmers sidelined in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and northern Missouri.
Ethanol production at Garnett’s East Kansas Agri-Energy plant has buoyed the price locally, as has demand for feed grain in commercial poultry houses in Arkansas.
The Garnett ethanol market is a good one locally, Lynch added, because freight isn’t a substantial factor in hauling the grain less than 40 miles.
He thinks more corn was planted locally this year, a conclusion drawn from greater sales of fertilizer and chemicals.
“Last year we took in 1.2 million bushels,” he said.
Lynch also thinks more wheat was sewn this year than last, probably on the order of 2009 when 20,500 acres were planted in Allen County.
“We bought just 10,000 bushels last year,” he said, when wet conditions made it difficult for farmers to get into fields the previous fall. “Used to be, when a third of the (tilled) ground was put to wheat, we sometimes took in 350,000 bushels.”