By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
The word oasis comes to mind when describing northwestern Kansas this summer. Although within a few weeks if the 100-degree plus temperatures continue, it may turn a bit drier.
But for now, in mid-July, the cattle graze in pastures with lush, tall grass. Each field of corn, beans or milo resembles a living green tapestry woven by the Master’s hand. Dryland corn looks just like its irrigated cousin. Both have even, uniform stands colored in deep dark green while standing six feet tall. Powerful corn as farmers say in this part of Kansas.
And the wheat crop?
You have to see it to believe it. And that’s just what I did on July 14/15. I traveled nearly 240 miles west on Highway 36 from Manhattan to visit the Holle family in Rawlins County. Crops and grassland were green the entire distance in the upper tier of Kansas counties.
Once I pulled up to the wheat field, I climbed up the combine ladder and veteran Rawlins County farmer/stockmen Kevin Holle opened the cab. Old friends, we both sported broad smiles as we shook hands and I sat down in the buddy seat as we began to talk. I’d known Kevin since we were both kids nearly 35 years ago. Our two schools Atwood and Hoxie, where I grew up, were sports rivals.
Needless to say an hour sped by like the blink of an eye as we caught up and he told me about this year’s wheat crop. He was running a Gleaner with a stripper head on a field approximately 22 miles southwest of Oberlin.
It didn’t take me long to ask Kevin how the wheat was rolling into the bin. He pointed to the computer on the right side of the combine cab. The number 66 (bushels per acre) flashed across the screen.
Reports of 50-85 bushel wheat have been common throughout some counties in far northwestern Kansas this harvest. The only problem is showers have come through this region of Kansas nearly every other night since the end of June.
In Rawlins County, Holle says they’ve received nearly six inches of rain since July 1. Throughout harvest he cut around the bottom of terraces to avoid getting stuck in the wet fields.
“It’s one of those unbelievable years,” Holle told me. “It’s just such a great feeling to watch the crop coming in like this.”
Holle believes his wheat crop will average 65 bushels per acre. Yes, the last three years have been kind and bountiful for the Holles and other northwestern Kansas grain producers. Two years ago they harvested 180 bushel dryland corn. Their best crop ever.
“Everything has to come together just right,” Holle says. “Timely rains, cooler temperatures when the wheat heads are filling or the corn is tasseling.”
Still with the abundant harvest Holle knows what it’s like to be on the other end of the stick. During the beginning of the 21st Century, his family suffered through six years of drought, crop failure and heartache. He knows all too well what his fellow farmers across Kansas are feeling.
“I feel bad for the producers who can’t get a rain for anything,” the Rawlins County producer says. “I’d sure like to share some of this with them right now.”
During those tough times beginning in 2002, it was so dry on the Holle pastureland they didn’t bother to even turn their cow herd out on the grass. There wasn’t any for his herd to eat. They also swathed their corn crop, rather than cut it for grain, to feed their hungry herd for six years.
“It’s amazing what this country out here will produce with a little moisture,” Holle says. “This year is testimony to that. The good Lord has blessed us.”
Yes, so far in 2011 crops and livestock in northwestern Kansas have flourished. Crops roll for miles in green splendor with the promise of an abundant harvest this fall. That means farmer/stockmen like the Holles will prosper this year, set some aside for the lean years and continue to farm land that’s been under their family’s care for five generations.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.