Unseasonably wet and cool spring delays Kansas wheat harvest

If it were any other year, Scott Van Allen, a wheat farmer near Clearwater, would likely be finished harvesting his crop.

This year, harvest hasn’t even started.

Van Allen is just one of many Kansas farmers facing a later wheat harvest after an especially damp and cool spring.

May was the wettest ever recorded in Kansas with rainfall across the state averaging 10.26 inches, more than double the 30-year average of 4.12 inches.

Van Allen said he hopes to be able to start harvesting by the weekend, but storms like the one on Tuesday night keep pushing back the deadline.

Typically, the wheat harvest in Kansas occurs sometime between early and mid-June and is usually finished by mid-July, but the Kansas Wheat Commission, a group of Kansas wheat farmers, reports only one percent of the wheat crop in the state was harvested by June 16. This time last year, 20 percent of the crop had been harvested. Typically about 12 percent of the state’s wheat crop has been harvested by this time.

Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that only 21 percent of Kansas’ wheat crop is mature, “well behind” this time last year when almost 60 percent of the crop was mature.

“I anticipate that the harvest will be getting going in the next few days,” Marsha Boswell, director of communications for the Kansas Wheat Commission, said.

For growers like Van Allen, it’ll take more than a couple of days to harvest. Usually, it takes about 10 days to two weeks to harvest his whole crop.

“A day or two of dry weather doesn’t help us much,” Van Allen said. “That still leaves a lot of harvest left to finish.”

Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said in an emailed statement that other factors could be impacting the later harvest. For instance, she said, wheat crops were generally planted later this year, but “rainfall has played a significant part.”

Another factor delaying the harvest is field conditions, said Jeff Seiler, agriculture and natural resources extension agent for Sedgwick County. Cool temperatures slow the maturation of crops, but wet fields make it difficult and unwise to harvest.

“With the rains, it just pushes it back until we get dry enough to get into the field,” Seiler said. “It’s going to take a little longer to dry out.”

While it is difficult to take heavy machinery onto a wet terrain, harvesting the crops while the fields are saturated with water could impact future harvests.

Last year, Seiler said, soybean farmers in Kansas were forced to harvest in damp fields, which caused deeper ruts in the soil and could impact the growth of this year’s crop.

As far as yield and quality of this year’s wheat crop goes, it’s too soon to tell, Boswell said.

“We really don’t know at this point,” Boswell said. “We know that there are areas where the water has kind of stayed and is standing which has affected yield because they won’t be able to harvest that.”

Van Allen said, in his experience, spring seasons that are wetter and cooler produce lower yields.

“Generally yields are low because wheat is a dry weather crop,” he said. “It has to have some water to grow, but it doesn’t need an excess amount of water which is what we have had all spring.”

It’s a waiting game, but hopefully, Van Allen said, there are some warm, windy days on the horizon to dry up the wheat fields.