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Agriculture and weighty matters
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor for this week shows expanding drought conditions in Southwest and South Central Kansas. All of Stafford and most of Pawnee County are now in moderate drought with all of Barton County abnormally dry. Parts of Reno, Harvey and McPherson Counties are now in severe drought conditions. Warm conditions aren’t helping. Perhaps the moisture predicted for this Sunday and into Monday will help. While wheat isn’t doing much now, drier soils stress root systems and leave the crop more susceptible to cold damage with stressed wheat and dry soil that cools more significantly than wetter soils. There is a great deal of information to digest this time of year. Some of it fairly serious regarding prices, exports and farm income. So let’s take a bit of a break and speak to something important but a little less serious in agriculture. In fact important in many ways for all of us – weight.

It is likely most of us have noticed but not thought about how important weight is to almost every aspect of our lives. From healthcare and commerce to farm operations and the items you purchase, weight is there. The dosage of your medicine is often determined by your weight. How much you pay to ship a package. Almost all the food you buy has a weight or volume used to determine price. Look at that can of soup, package of meat, or produce you buy and it’s sold by weight. Your milk is sold by volume yet the dairy farmer is paid by the weight of milk they deliver. And most of all, crop and livestock producers are paid for their product by weight. More about producers in a moment.

Most know the world uses the metric system for weights and volumes. Here, in our everyday lives and for agriculture products, weights and volumes are typically sold using what is termed the inch-pound system. Yet our country adopted the metric system in the 1870s. In the 1970s there was a concerted effort to switch the country over to metric but about as far as it got was two-liter pop bottles. However, if you examine that can of green beans or bottle of iced tea, you will see in addition to pounds, ounces, and gallons grams and liters.  

There is a large, yet largely unnoticed industry around weight – the commercial scale industry. Any scale or other device where money changes hands based on a weight, volume, or other measurement must meet certain standards, it must be certified as a commercial device. And it must be inspected on a regular basis. These devices are at your checkout lane (a scanner scale), at the deli counter, at the feed yard, and the grain elevator to name just a few. There are approximately 15 to 20 thousand commercials scales in Kansas alone. Now back to farmers.

One of the concerns with this year’s fall harvest in much of the country is that grain is lower in test weight than desired. And if it’s lower, a producer is “docked” or given a lower price. Test weight is how much a bushel of grain weighs. Each type of grain has a standard, for example 56 pounds per bushel of corn. It’s an odd sort of measurement because a bushel is a volume (eight dry gallons) while we think about it in terms of weight. So a farmers delivers pounds of grain to the elevator, this weight is converted to a volume as bushels for most seed crops (not all) and then ultimately sold, especially as an export by weight again. However, not before being first being converted from inch-pounds to metric.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.