Wheat harvest in gear

Farmers like this hot, sunny weather because it is helping the area wheat crop, which is rated 80-90% excellent in SEK. That's not the case in other parts of the state.

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June 17, 2022 - 3:57 PM

Two combines work in tandem to harvest wheat in a field west of Piqua Thursday. Area farmers are hopeful for a bumper crop this year. Photo by Susan Lynn

While it might be a gardener’s bane, this hot and dry weather is tailor-made for a successful wheat harvest. 

“We could use another 10 days just like this,” said Keven Day, manager of the Piqua Co-op. 

Adam Splechter, who farms in Woodson County, agreed.  

“It can’t get too hot,” Splechter said, adding, “We’re still on the hunt for dry fields. Some are still too wet for us to get into.” 

At Thursday’s inspection at the cooperative, Splechter’s wheat had a 13.5% moisture content.  

“Perfect,” he said. “It’s just where a farmer wants it.” 

Any higher, and the moisture can “deteriorate the quality in a hurry,” said Day. 

“The ideal moisture range is 11.5% to 13.5%,” said Day, who’s managed the Piqua Co-op since 2015. 

Determining when to cut wheat is a delicate dance. And you can’t blame a farmer if the weather forecast is the first and last thing he looks at each day.

Delaying harvest always runs the risk of potential storm damage and further weed growth. And while a too-high moisture content is to be avoided, the drier the grain, the more it takes to make 60-lb. bushel.

So being able to deliver wheat as close to 13.5%  enables farmers to essentially “sell water.” 

Splechter and his crew began cutting wheat on Wednesday northwest of Piqua. Field hand Derrick Heslop was at the wheel at one of two combines harvesting the golden field. 

Heslop estimated he cuts about 180 acres a day. On Thursday afternoon, it took only a few swaths before Heslop was ready to empty the combine into a waiting semi. Each load deposits about 280 bushels.  

Harvested wheat is dumped from a combine into a waiting semitractor-trailer rig for transport. Each haul is about 280 bushels. Photo by Susan Lynn
A combine harvest wheats in a field west of Piqua Thursday. Area farmers are hopeful for a bumper crop this year. Photo by Susan Lynn
A combine harvest wheats in a field west of Piqua Thursday. Area farmers are hopeful for a bumper crop this year. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
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Splechter said the yield per acre varies from field to field. “I’ve cut some fields where I’ve gotten 30 bushels per acre. Others, 70 bushels.” 

Though he hesitates to say when he’ll be able to wrap up the harvest — with Mother Nature always the caveat — he estimates it will be “sometime next week.” 

“Then we’ll plant beans,” Splechter said.  

Day said area crops are rated 80-90% excellent. And with the price per bushel fetching $10.75 as of Wednesday, that can make for a healthy return on investment.  

Last year, wheat averaged $5 per bushel. 

Adam Splechter waits to haul the grain to a nearby elevator.Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

“We’ll come out ahead this year,” Splechter said. “Last year, the wheat was really good as well, but we couldn’t get much for it. This year, it’s a different story.” 

Offsetting that bounty, of course, is the high price of diesel, now bumping $5 a gallon, and fertilizer and seed.  

Even so, Day expects local farmers to be happy. “There’s still a margin for profit,” he said. 

Wheat comprises about 5-10% of the crops planted locally, Day said. Once harvested, the wheat is transferred to either Kansas City or the Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.  

“We can’t tie up our storage with wheat going into the fall harvest,” Day said, where soybeans and corn take precedence. 

Derrick Heslop pilots one of two combines for Adam Splechter. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

IT’S A DIFFERENT story for wheat in western Kansas, Day said.  

“I-35 east, the wheat looks good. From there west, the drought is taking a toll.”  

According to recent reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wheat fields out west are averaging 27 bushels per acre — less than half of what is predicted for these parts. 

As for planting more wheat because of the drop in worldwide production due to the war in Ukraine, which is known as the world’s “breadbasket,” neither Day nor Splechter expected much to change. Even though the local yields are good, they are  relatively small.  

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