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Wheat crop looks pretty good in eastern Kansas, tour participants say

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at 10:43 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 9, 2013, at 2:29 p.m.

There’s no substitute for seeing for yourself.

That’s the idea behind the annual Kansas Wheat Tour, an arduous three-day, many-hundred-mile trip to see first-hand how good or bad the wheat crop is.

After two days, the verdict was not unexpected: far western Kansas’ wheat crop is suffering from a crippling drought compounded by several bitter freezes, while areas farther east are in better shape.

The estimate for the yield, based on two days of touring central and western Kansas, was 40.5 bushels per acre, down from 48.8 observed last year but above Wheat Tour estimates for the same two days in 2011 and 2006. A more complete number will be available after fields between Wichita and Kansas City are toured.

The group of nearly 100 travelers are mostly from agribusinesses across the nation and beyond interested in knowing the size of the state’s hard winter wheat crop.

They gathered Wednesday evening in Wichita to compare notes after driving from Colby.

Observers found a few fields in the last rank of Kansas counties wiped out, but more common were fields promising yields of 5 to 25 bushels per acre.

“Moving south from Colby was pretty depressing,” one participant told the audience in the ballroom at the LaQuinta Inn in west Wichita.

But as those on the tour made their way east, the wheat crop started to look better, improving with each county. But the drought’s impact remains strong.

“We really didn’t start seeing subsoil moisture until we hit Sedgwick County,” said another participant.

Others reported considerable freeze damage in central Kansas.

Participants were given routes and stopped about every 15 to 20 miles during the long drive to inspect random wheat fields.

Mark Hodges, owner of Plains Grains of Oklahoma City, was driving a red double-cab pickup during the final part of his run into Wichita when he pulled alongside a field on Obee Road just south of K-96 near Yoder.

He and his three passengers waded right into the damp knee-high green stalks.

It was cold and windy, and some participants shivered as they examined the wheat.

Hodges flung a yardstick into the wheat to randomly select a sample and then knelt to count the number of wheat stalks per foot. Then he looked for damage from frost, disease or insects.

He pulled up a plant to look at the roots. That gives him a sense of the moisture in the soil.

Tellingly, he said, the root system was deeper than the 2 inches he saw on plants in western Kansas.

There was a little freeze damage on the flag leaf, the big leaf that develops later on the top of the plant.

The field in Yoder looked great, he said.

The story was much the same in a field east of Mount Hope.

The field was dense with healthy, dark green wheat stalks. Harvest, Hodges estimated, was about seven weeks away.

Ben McClure, a farmer from Hugoton, walked to where Hodges was working and said he thought this field might generate 60 bushels an acre, a very good harvest.

“You know what made it for you guys: that 20 inches of snow,” Hodges said.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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