Faces of Harvest: Kenneth Palmgren, Edson

Each year, more than 20,000 Kansas wheat farmers take dramatic risks to grow the wheat that feeds the world. We hope you enjoy learning more about these farmers through our series, “The Faces of Harvest.”

When Kenneth Palmgren, a wheat farmer from Edson, talks about young people, you can practically hear the smile on his face. Palmgren loves to talk about the adventures that his young grandchildren have on the farm. The grandkids love to interact with newborn calves and help their grandmother, Virginia, around in the kitchen. But, the grandchildren aren’t the only young people that Palmgren is excited to talk about.

Kenneth Palmgren, a farmer from Edson, loves the wheat industry and what he does.

Kenneth Palmgren, a farmer from Edson, loves the wheat industry and what he does.

“I love to see young people heading back to the farm,” said Palmgren. “They want to move back and raise their kids in the lifestyle that they grew up in, and that’s so exciting. You didn’t see young people move back for a long time, but now, for some reason, you see it quite a bit.”

Palmgren operates a farm with land in both Sherman and Thomas counties. He has been farming full time since 1975 after previously being a math, physical education, driver’s education teacher and coach at the local high school. Palmgren has been active both in his community, by serving at his local church and working with county FFA chapters, and in the agricultural industry. He has worked extensively with the International Grains Program in the past, promoted the short courses at the institute during his travels to Cuba and Brazil and has encouraged the folks he meets to learn more about the industry.

“Agriculture is very valuable to the state of Kansas,” said Palmgren. “I’m always interested in learning more about wheat and technology.”

Palmgren has seen the wheat industry change through the many years he has been farming.

“Just in the last ten years so much has changed,” Palmgren said. “There is so much technology that makes farming easier and more efficient. I’m excited to see what comes next.”

Palmgren fired up his combines on July 3 hoping to have a straight shot to finish harvest. However, a small Sunday shower put his harvest on hold.

“So far my average yield is at about 40 bushels per acre. It’s good quality stuff, just a little lower than average quantity,” said Palmgren. “Some of my neighbors have gotten 60 bushels per acre, and some have gotten 6. It all depends on where the rain landed.”

As Palmgren reflected on his love for farming and why he chose to come back, he spoke words that describe many farmers from his generation. “I suppose I came back because no matter how hard you try, you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”

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Faces of Harvest: Jim Michael, McCune

Each year, more than 20,000 Kansas wheat farmers take dramatic risks to grow the wheat that feeds the world. We hope you enjoy learning more about these farmers through our series, “The Faces of Harvest.”

Jim Michael crop

Jim Michael, a farmer from McCune, is an involved member of his community, as well as a busy dad.

When Jim Michael was in college, he, like many other students, didn’t know what he wanted to do after graduation. He knew that he wanted to be in agriculture, but he wasn’t sure a life on the farm was one for him. But, as Jim went through his studies in Agricultural Economics at K-State, he realized that life on the farm was what he was meant for.

After college, he purchased a farm near the farms of his parents and grandparents near McCune. 20 years later, he still farms with his parents, John and Carolyn, and with his wife, Karma. Jim and Karma are also raising their two daughters on the farm.

“The oldest is really involved in the FFA,” said Jim. “She loves cattle and she always asks a lot of questions, which is great! She wants to be a vet. And my youngest one, she loves the outdoors. I think they both really love the farm.”

Michael is a Kansas Association of Wheat Growers Director, but he is also involved in other organizations. He serves on the Crawford County Farm Bureau board and his district’s Kansas Farm Management Board. Michael also had the opportunity to take part in the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership (KARL) program. During KARL, Michael was able to travel around the state and learn more about Kansas agriculture, as well as travel to Brazil to learn more about international agriculture.

“The KARL program was a great experience for me,” said Michael. “I was able to learn so much and meet so many people.”

For Michael, there are many reasons why he chose to farm, but he mostly just loves the work that he is doing.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being self employed,” Michael said. “But there are so many rewards. Farming is rewarding for me.”

Back in McCune, Michael, with the help of his family, is working on harvesting his crop. But the wheat isn’t the only thing that is grown on his farm, the Michael family has grown closer as well.

“This line of work brings the family together,” said Michael. “There are so many opportunities to grow closer and work together for an end product, and it is incredible to be a part of.”

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Faces of Harvest: Randy Fritzemeier, Stafford

Each year, more than 20,000 Kansas wheat farmers take dramatic risks to grow the wheat that feeds the world. We hope you enjoy learning more about these farmers through our series, “The Faces of Harvest.”

There are some people whose smile and laugh are contagious to everyone in a room. Randy Fritzemeier, a wheat producer from Stafford, is one of those people. Somehow, you can catch him with a grin even when his day is clouded by a loss from his beloved K-State Wildcats.

The Fritzemeier family pictured after the Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker Ceremony.

The Fritzemeier family pictured after the Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker Ceremony.

Fritzemeier, a fourth-generation farmer, has nearly 1,400 acres of wheat in Stafford and Reno counties. He also raises alfalfa, corn, sudangrass and cattle. Fritzemeier and his wife, Kim, are active in advocating for agriculture. This year Randy has presented a workshop on the history of wheat to the students at Stafford Elementary School. In addition to being a Membership Director for District 6 of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, Randy has served on the Stafford County Farm Bureau Board, been a mentor to students as a 4-H leader, worked with the Stafford Education Foundation and been an active member in the Stafford First United Methodist Church. Randy and Kim have also been honored as a Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker for 2013.

Randy isn’t the only agvocate in the family. Kim is the central Kansas reporter for KFRM 550 AM and also operates her own blog called Kim’s County Line, where she posts everything from the routines of farm life to fun recipes.

Harvest time in the Fritzemeier household has shifted in the last few years. The Fritzemeier children, Jill and Brent, are now grown and have moved away from the farm. Jill is the Team Nutrition Project Director for the Kansas State Department of Education, and Brent has recently become the communications coordinator for the K-State College of Business Administration. While their two children are grown and away from the farm, Randy and Kim enjoy having a little farm helper in their granddaughter whenever she visits.

Fritzemeier attributes his passion for agriculture to his education.

“I love farming and doing what I do because of my education both in high school and in college,” Fritzemeier said. “It always interested me because I loved that I could apply what I learned in the classroom.”

Although Randy is an amateur magician, he couldn’t work any magic on the state of his wheat for this harvest season.

“This year’s crop is about half of what I had last year,” said Fritzemeier. “The yields are coming in at anywhere between 15-30 bushels an acre and the test weights are about 59 pounds per bushel.”

With a passion for his farm, Randy isn’t about to leave the ag life anytime soon.

“I love of being outdoors and watching the natural cycle of my crops,” Randy said. “It’s why I do what I do.”

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Faces of Harvest: Phil White, Wellington

Each year, more than 20,000 Kansas wheat farmers take dramatic risks to grow the wheat that feeds the world. We hope you enjoy learning more about these farmers through our series, “The Faces of Harvest.”

When a journalist heads to the farm, he or she can usually be spotted from a mile away in a dapper, professional suit getting ready for the five o’clock news. But when Phil White heads down to the farm, he instead dons the traditional farmer’s tan. White, a wheat producer in Wellington, farms around 1,500 acres with his father and brother in the Wellington area.

Phil White, a wheat farmer from Wellington, reported on harvest last year for KAKE news in Wichita.

Phil White, a wheat farmer from Wellington, reported on harvest last year for KAKE news in Wichita.

White recently made a career change from a reporter at KAKE in Wichita to taking over as the programming and news director for KLEY and KWME Radio in Wellington and KKLE Radio in Winfield. He had previously been employed at the radio station in high school, and when Travis Turner, the man who hired a teenage White, passed away in February, Phil was offered the job.

“I was already looking for houses in Wellington,” said White. “I’ve always wanted to move back so I could help out on the farm. Then the opportunity to work in the community came up and we were able to come to a deal.”

Working as both a journalist and a production agriculturist has been an interesting dynamic. When you’re a journalist in Kansas, being a born and raised farm kid has its advantages.

“The managers that I had at KAKE were great with agriculture pieces,” said White. “They recognized how important it is for the Kansas economy, and their viewers.”

On the farm, Phil has seen a lot of growth, both in the size of the operation and his involvement. The operation itself has grown by about 300 acres in the last few years. But White is excited to be more involved in the operation than when he was growing up, especially with being able to make production decisions.

White, who is getting married in August, said that one thing he is enjoying about moving back to Wellington is the influx of young professionals coming into the area.

“Unlike many small towns in Kansas, Wellington is enjoying a young person population growth that I am happy to be a part of,” said White. “And I am glad to be working at stations that are doing an important service for the community, that I think should stay in the community.”

White has started his wheat harvest this week and believes that his crop conditions leave much to be desired.

“If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have thought it would be worse,” said White. “We are averaging about 15-20 bushels per acre. But the stuff that is making 20 had 60 bushels per acre on it last year.”

Even though this year’s harvest isn’t what White had hoped, harvest has always been a fond memory of White’s.

“I have always had good memories of harvest,” Phil said. “Even when I’m frustrated with equipment breakdowns, it’s all worth it in the end. No matter what, harvest is always an exciting time.”

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Crop Conditions – May 23, 2014

Kansas Wheat Commission held its board meeting today at the K-State Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kansas. I visited with a few Kansas Wheat Commissioners to find out about the quality of their crop and when they believe they’ll be able to start harvest.

Richard Randall from west central Kansas, Scott County, reports his wheat is all kinds of stages – most of it is headed; some of it is just starting to head. “We’ll probably be cutting wheat from June 20 to July 4. We’re going to have yields all over the board from very close to not being profitable to cut to some decent wheat that’s under irrigation.”

Mike McClellan, from Palco, who farms in Rooks and Graham Counties, reports, “Our late planted wheat looks really tough right now. We’ve had a little rain over the last couple days. We’re hoping it perks up a little bit. We have two fields we’re destroying because it was so far behind it never was going to make anything. We’re hoping we have some decent wheat on some of our earlier planted wheat – 25 to 30 bushels per acre. We’re pretty far down from where we’d like to be. I’m thinking we’ll probably start harvest around the 20th of June.”

Jason Ochs from Syracuse, Kansas, reports, “Depending on which area of the county depends on how well the wheat looks. There’s a whole lot that’s not even going to be harvested. It’s going to be destroyed. There’s other areas that it’s going to be 10-15 bushel wheat. We’ll probably start arournd June 25th for harvest.”

Doug Keesling, Rice County in central Kansas, reports, “The wheat in our area has gone through many ups and downs. We have some that has been turned into insurance but we have not heard the results yet because we are waiting on appraisers. And we have some that’s going to be average. In our area we’ll probably start somewhere around June 15th which will be a few days early for us. Things are maturing fast because of the drought. Our lack of rain is our number one issue in our area – short wheat and lack of rain.”

Scott Van Allen, Sumner County, reports “Harvest will start about the 13th of June. We’re hoping for a 30 bushels wheat crop this year. Our normal wheat crop is around 40 bushel, so the yields are off quite a bit from normal.”

David Radenberg, Barton County near Claflin, with ground in Rush County and Ellsworth County, reports, “The ground in Rush County, the wheat looks pretty good. It’s going to be our normal harvest time – 20th to 25th of June. In Barton County, it looks pretty good. There are a few places in no-till that we had a few issues with winterkill. That being said, it still looks reasonably well. My Ellsworth County ground has been a little bit short on moisture. It got good emergence, but it was stunted pretty bad by lack of moisture. Harvest time on that is about June 20-25, probably closer to the 25th of June. Yields are going to be an average yield in the 30 to 40 bushel range.”

Ron Suppes, Lane and Scott County, reports, “I put out about 4000 acres of wheat. I have probably 600 to 700 acres that was continuous crop that could be turned in for a loss at this time. Cool weather two weeks ago has enabled our wheat to head out. Up until that point in time, since January, we’d had less than two inches of moisture total. I anticipate that some fields will be cut, possibly 15 bushel wheat. There will be more abandonment, especially if we don’t get rain this next go round. As far as the wheat condition, the stuff that’s still out there that is still growing that is headed out, I think will be on a normal timeline for harvest probably June 20.”

Guorong Zhang, wheat breeder at the K-State Agricultural Research Center in Hays, reports, “The wheat breeding program at Hays also has drought stress. This year we got less than 3 inches of rain, so it’s very much stressed. A lot of our wheat plots we’ll harvest 10-20 bushels, if we get rain now. If we don’t get rain now, some of the plots will fail. Last week I traveled to nurseries in Minneola, Ness City, Pawnee, and Colby. Minneola has a lot of freeze damage and drought stress. Maybe it will be crossed off the list for harvesting. Ness City is very drought stressed, so I already decided to cross it off the list. Colby is ok. Yesterday they got another inch of rain, so I think they will make it. I also visited Osbourne County; we have a nursery over there. That’s the best wheat I’ve seen. It’s in northern Kansas. They got much more rain than here (Hays). Pawnee got about three inches just a week or two ago. Some plots are still ugly after the rain, maybe because it was stressed before the rain. Pawnee still can make it, although they also have some freeze damage. Graham County is also ok. So far, we have lost one or two locations, so that’s good. Next week I will drive to Garden City. I think it will be similar situation as Hays; it’s very much drought stressed.”

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Scouts Estimate Record Low Wheat Yields Based on Drought

By Julia Debes, contributing editor, assistant director of communications, U.S. Wheat Associates

Projections for the Kansas hard red winter (HRW) wheat crop are the poorest in 13 years, according to the annual HRW Wheat Quality Tour. Seventy-five scouts calculated the overall Kansas wheat yield of 33.2 bushels per acre, based on 587 total stops, much lower than the five-year average of 41.8 bushels per acre. That estimate is the lowest since 2001 when the projected average yield was 32.7 bushels per acre.

Tour participants also projected total Kansas wheat production at 260.6 million bushels, the lowest estimate since 2011. If realized, this would be the lowest production since 1996 when Kansas farmers harvested a total 255.2 million bushels.

“One thing that really stood out about this crop is the extent of the drought damage. It wasn’t just a portion of the state, or just one region, but rather was affecting the entire crop,” said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of Kansas Wheat. “Although the wheat was disappointing, the tour itself was still a great experience. This year brought together an incredibly diverse representation of all aspects of the grain chain, including farmers, wheat buyers, millers, government representatives and even participants from Wal-Mart and Brazil.”

On the third and final day of the tour, participants made fewer stops on their route from Wichita to Kansas City, but still reported seeing drier than normal conditions. Scouts made 45 stops and reported an average estimate of 37.8 bushels per average, significantly lower than last year’s 52.3 bushels per average based on 29 stops.

“There is a lot of poor and fair wheat out there with not enough good to excellent fields,” said Daryl Strouts, executive director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance and long-time tour participant. “If the state does not receive normal to abundant rainfall soon, then the wheat will not even meet its current potential.”

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Wheat Tour 14 estimates lowest production since 1996

by Marsha Boswell, contributing editor, director of communications, Kansas Wheat

The Wheat Quality Council 2014 Hard Winter Wheat Tour wrapped up on May 1. Crop scouts estimated production for the Kansas crop at 260.6 million bushels. This would be the lowest production since 1996. The average yield, calculated from 587 stops, was 33.2 bushels per acre.

Twenty vans with crop scouts surveyed and evaluated the potential of the hard winter wheat crop the week of April 28 to May 1, 2014. The participants attended a brief training and tour overview session in Manhattan on the evening of April 28.

Day one saw the cars traveling on six different routes from Manhattan to Colby. Despite rain, bitter cold and bellowing winds, scouts saw clear, consistent evidence of drought stress on the first day of the annual HRW Wheat Quality Tour. Scouts in 20 vans made 271 stops on the first day of the tour from Manhattan to Colby. Overall, the groups reported an average of 34.7 bushels per acre, well below last year’s average and the five-year average, both at 43.8 bushels per acre. This also is the lowest Day 1 average since 2001, when scouts reported an average of 32.6 bushels per acre. Overall, Tuesday’s reports indicated the wheat crop in the northern half of the state is behind normal crop progress, short and in need of moisture soon.

“Moisture in the next 30 days is critical and important to more than just the wheat crop, extending into planting decisions for the rest of the spring,” said Rich Randall, Kansas Wheat commissioner who farms Scott City, Kansas.

On day two, the cars traveled from Colby to Wichita. Several cars went into the far western Kansas counties and three cars actually covered the northern tier of Oklahoma counties. Scouts on the second day of the 2014 HRW Wheat Quality Tour reported the lowest yields in at least the last 14 years as they traveled south and east from Colby to Wichita. Along the six routes, scouts made a total of 271 stops on Wednesday. They estimated the average yield at 30.8 bushels per acre, substantially below last year’s average of 37.1 bushels per acre on Day 2. Lack of moisture continues to dominate concerns. Scouts reported extremely dry conditions, which has resulted in shorter than normal wheat and thin stands. Scattered fields had headed out, with participants seeing fewer spikelets and smaller heads than expected. Drought conditions continue to persist for the fourth year in a row in some places.

Kansas Wheat Commissioner and Clearwater-area farmer, Scott Van Allen, wasn’t surprised at the low yields being reported. He commented the crop still had great potential as recently as three weeks ago, but as the temperatures have warmed and moisture supplies continue to dissipate, he has grown less optimistic. Van Allen stated, “If moisture arrives in the near future, maximum yields in our area will probably be in the 35-40 bushel range. That’s a far cry from yields we were hoping for as the crop first broke dormancy this spring.”

Day three concluded the trip with cars traveling from Wichita to Kansas City. The final estimates for average yield as well as total Kansas wheat production were released after the group’s final meeting in Kansas City.

The calculated average from the entire tour was 33.2 bushels per acre. Last year, the tour estimated Kansas wheat production would average 41.1 bushels per acre, close to the final USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s final yield for Kansas of 38 bushels per acre. The scouts use a formula provided by Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service to arrive at their calculated average. The formula is based on a 10-year rolling average and changes slightly from year to year.

All the yield estimates from the tour assume decent moisture and average temperature prospects from now until harvest.

According to Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains, Inc., the tour estimates at this point are reporting top-end yield potential, “We cannot make any more wheat, we can only preserve what we already have.”

The crop is several weeks behind normal in terms of maturity; Monday’s Crop Report from Kansas Ag Statistics indicated that just 4% of the crop has headed out, compared to 1% last year and 17 average. Winter wheat condition rated 13 percent very poor, 24 poor, 42 fair, 20 good, and 1 excellent. Winter wheat jointed was 56 percent, near 52 last year but behind the five-year average of 74.


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