A Tale of Two Crops

2013 Summer Harvest Drought Monitor

2013 Summer Harvest Drought Monitor2012 Fall Planting Drought Monitor 2012 Fall Planting Drought Monitor

With the release of the USDA’s August Crop Report earlier this week, the size of the Kansas Wheat Crop has been making the news. Overall the crop came in above many early season estimates, including the USDA’s own pre-harvest June report that estimated the crop at 306 million bushels. To truly understand the effect the drought had on last year’s crop one has to look deeper than the statewide production number.

The USDA set Kansas’ 2013 production at 328 million bushels, a 15 percent reduction from 2012 and roughly 9 percent below the state’s five year production average.

The statewide average yield was an even 40 bpa on 8.2 million harvested acres. It is important to note that the statewide bpa is calculated after abandoned acres are taken out. In 2013 Kansas farmers abandoned 10 percent of their wheat acres, compared to a five-year-average of 6.4 percent. Where the drought was most severe and the most prolonged, the statistics show a much bleaker picture.

Many participants of the annual wheat tour, held the first week of May, observed that the tour was really about two completely different crops. There were fields with record potential through central Kansas that had received ample moisture to establish in the fall. On the other hand, the participants saw fields that had not yet emerged, were poorly established and some that were completely dead. Several participants put the dividing line between the two scenarios at hwy 183. Thumbing through the crop report, it would seem this imaginary line held true through harvest.

The western third of Kansas nearly produced their smallest wheat crop in 45 years. At a production total of 70.5 million bushels, only the 2004 crop of 70.1 million bushels stood between 2013 and the lows of 1968.  The bleaker number was the regional abandonment with wheat farmers in the western three crop reporting districts abandoning 26 percent of their acres.

Kansas Agricultural Districts

Kansas Agricultural Districts

With a crop so dismal across such a large area of the state’s wheat acres, how did the final crop come in only down 15 percent? Cool temperatures and late spring rains left central and eastern Kansas with one of the best crops in years. Looking at those same abandonment and total production numbers, farmers in the central Kansas crop reporting district harvested their fifth-largest crop on record and abandoned only 4.7 percent of acres. Southeast Kansas saw their fourth largest crop in history, 28.5 million bushels, from a mere 6 percent of Kansas’ wheat acres. Southeast Kansas has only out-produced the three western crop reporting districts one time in the last 50 years, in 1968.

Although the recent rains across much of Kansas may not quite be a drought-buster for the entire state, most farmers will be planting into better conditions than they have seen for several years.

Story written by Dalton Henry, KS Wheat Government Relations Specialist. 

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State FFA Officers visit the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center

DSCF5743Five Kansas FFA State Officers and the Kansas National FFA Officer Candidate visited the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center Monday, August 12. 

As a part of their business and industry tour the state officers visit several agricultural businesses and organizations to get a better understanding of the Kansas agriculture industry. During their time at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center the officers learned about the vital role that wheat plays in the Kansas economy. 

“You always hear about Kansas being the “Breadbasket of the World,’ but you don’t understand until you really see it,” Lindy Billberry, Kansas FFA State President said.


Kansas FFA State Vice President, Carrie Carlson peers into a growth chamber while Kansas Wheat’s Governmental Affairs Specialist Dalton Henry teaches about the research that takes place at the KWIC.

Representing students across the state of Kansas, the state officers are taking their learning beyond the classroom. Touring several agricultural offices, they will get an inside view of the industry and the sponsors who help make the Kansas FFA Association possible. 

“Business and industry visits give us an opportunity to show our support and give an in person thank you to our partners,” Elizabeth Allen, Kansas FFA State Sentinel said.

The visit to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center was a highlight for the officers as they learned about the extensive research that takes place here.

“I was big into science in high school and getting to see the labs and learn about double haploid technology was so cool. I haven’t put much thought before into all the research it takes to get a wheat plant to the field,” Chance Humley, Kansas FFA State Secretary said.

As the officers continue on their visits they will have the opportunity to share their own stories; explaining the impact that agriculture education has had on their lives. The officers hope to share the role that FFA plays in developing the emerging leaders in the agriculture industry.

During the tour of the KWIC Henry explained the global role that Kansas Wheat plays in food production.

During the tour of the KWIC Henry explained the global role that Kansas Wheat plays in food production.

As state FFA officers, they serve on a team of six who travel across the state sharing their passion for agriculture, leadership and service. The officers present workshops and conferences across the state and challenge FFA members to serve their communities and the agriculture industry.

The Kansas FFA Association is a statewide organization of 8,343 agricultural education students in 162 chapters in every corner of Kansas. It is part of the National FFA Organization, a national youth organization of 557,318 student members preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture with 7,498 local chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Their mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Visit www.ksffa.org for more information.

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KWIC Welcomes Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy

The Kansas Wheat Commission welcomed an old friend to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center on July 25.

Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), toured the KWIC and learned more about the wheat doubled haploid process used by the Heartland Plant Innovations.

This tour, conducted by Chenggen Chu, director of HPI’s Advanced Breeding Services, was a great opportunity to explain how Kansas wheat farmers – through the Kansas wheat checkoff – are working collaboratively with other agencies to get new, improved wheat varieties out to farmers more quickly than ever.


Sonny Ramsaswamy, director of USDA's NIFA (second from right), toured the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center on July 25. Tour leaders were Will Zorrilla, Earth's Harvest; Chenggen Chu, Heartland Plant Innovations and Bikram Gill, Wheat Genomics Resource Center.

Sonny Ramsaswamy, director of USDA’s NIFA (second from right), toured the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center on July 25. Tour leaders were Will Zorrilla, Earth’s Harvest; Chenggen Chu, Heartland Plant Innovations and Bikram Gill, Wheat Genomics Resource Center.

Dr. Ramaswamy, who once served as Entomology department head at K-State and most recently was dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, has a great understanding of the importance of research and partnerships between public and private agencies, which is the core of Heartland Plant Innovations’ success.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture is an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was created through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. NIFA replaced the former Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), which had been in existence since 1994.

NIFA is a strong supporter of research nationwide, and it was pretty cool to see Dr. Ramaswamy interact with the folks at HPI, including research associates and student workers. He also learned more about future plans for HPI.

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The Faces of Harvest: Mike and Tanner Brown, Colby

It has been a rough few years for farmers in western Kansas. Drought has taken its toll on many farmers,  and Mike Brown of Solomon Creek Farms near Colby, is no exception. The 2013 wheat yields have been disappointing for many in the area, yet Mike seems to find a silver lining wherever one can be found, for this year, it’s the quality of his wheat.

Mike farms with his son, Tanner. They have a diversified crop operation just outside of Colby, where dry land wheat is the main crop.  Although his parents encouraged Tanner to get a degree beyond his agriculture background, after he missed his first wheat harvest because of school, he knew he never wanted to miss one again.

The Brown family with the 25 billionth bushel. Mike and his wife Jeanene are in the back row. From left to right in the front row Carla, and Tanner Brown, with sister and brother in law.

The Brown family with the 25 billionth bushel. Mike and his wife Jeanene are in the back row. From left to right in the front row Carla, and Tanner Brown, with sister and brother in law.

Now back at the farm, Tanner and his wife Carla have joined the family operation and added land of their own. While Mike calls himself a 1st generation farmer because he took over the operation from his father-in-law, Tanner is the 6th generation in his family to farm.

“I learned to drive a tractor and combine long before a truck, and I learned to drive a truck when I was 9,” Tanner said.

If Kansas wheat harvest can be described in one word, Tanner says it is “tradition.” For the Brown family, wheat harvest traditions include meals in the field, with special dishes the entire family looks forward to each year. It is the joy and tradition of wheat harvest that brought Tanner back to the farm and motivates him to keep going even through the tough years.

“No matter if it is a good year or a bad year, I am truly enjoying the work that I am doing,” he said.

On July 9, 2013, the 25 billionth bushel of wheat produced in Kansas in the last 100 years was collected at the Brown’s farm. The entire harvest crew witnessed the event; Mike said he could not be more honored to be the host.

“Wheat has always had a special place in Mike’s heart,” said wife Jeanene.

Mike and Tanner are farmers because it is what they love, what they are passionate about, and is a lifestyle that has been passed down through their family for generations. Through the successful years and the trying ones, these two farmers will continue to run their operation with the same perseverance that all Kansas farmers have exerted in order to reach the feat of producing 25 billion bushels of wheat.

The 25 billionth bushel of wheat will be on display at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, in honor of the Fair’s 100th year. 25 billion bushels would yield s more than 1 trillion commercial loaves of bread; that’s enough for each person on earth to have about 142 loaves of bread.

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The Faces of Harvest: Lance Russell, Hays

From left: Cathy, Lyle, Brooke and Lance Russell from Ellis County

From left: Cathy, Lyle, Brooke and Lance Russell from Ellis County

Lance Russell knew from age 3 that farming was all he wanted to do. Everything about farming was fascinating: all the machinery, the wonder of growing crops and especially, wheat harvest.

“Wheat harvest was the happiest time of the year. I loved it. I was a city boy when I moved to the farm at a young age, but I developed a passion for agriculture,” he says. Today, Lance and his wife, Cathy and their children, Lyle and Brooke, have grown Legacy Farms from its foundation in 2000 of 100 rented acres, to farms in Ellis, Rush and Ness counties.

The passion has led to a host of opportunities to engage others. Lance and Cathy have been active in Kansas Farm Bureau, and Lance graduated from the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership Class 10. Legacy Family Farms recently joined an organzation called Family Farms Group, where the Russells work with other producers to improve their business. And Lance has joined the Hays Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to have more representation from the agriculture sector. He strives to reach out to the non-farming public, and “tell agriculture’s story.”

“We in agriculture are great at talking to others in agriculture industry, but we often wonder what consumers don’t understand all the things farmers and ranchers do,” he explains. That’s one reason Russell is among a group of farmers and ranchers who take part in the Ellis County Farm Bureau’s Kid’s Ag Day on the Farm.

“It is important for us to talk to parents, teachers and students, to get the word out and start a conversation about agriculture,” Russell says.

Lance feels fortunate to be involved in production agriculture. For several years after college, he worked off the farm, hoping to get a chance to start his own operation. He took each work experience as a learning experience for the time when he would return to the farm. That happened in 2000, when Legacy Farms was established.

Lance and Cathy recently completed their 2013 wheat harvest, which remains as thrilling to Lance now as it did 40 years ago, albeit for different reasons.

“When I was a kid, it was a blast to ride the combine, and I enjoyed the food that Mom brought to the field,” he says. “Now that I’m the owner, it’s more stressful.”

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The Faces of Harvest: Greg Peterson, Assaria

You probably have heard of him from the YouTube sensation videos: “I’m Farming and I Grow It”, “Farmer Style”, and “A Fresh Breath of Farm Air,” but Peterson Farm Brother Greg is still just a regular farm kid. After he started driving tractor at age 5, the oldest of the Peterson kids became heavily involved in the family farm.

Now a graduate of Kansas State University, he has returned to the family farm to help out and live his “entrepreneur agvocate” lifestyle. While he is bringing in off the farm income from speaking at events and growing the Peterson Farm Brothers brand; when life gets busy on the farm, like it does during harvest; that is where you will find Greg.

greg peterson

Greg Peterson and Zhiman Xiao during wheat harvest 2013.

“It’s my favorite week of working on the farm the entire year. It’s what you look forward to; seeing the whole community come together, farmers all over doing the same thing you are. When you see them taking the wheat to the elevator, you feel a part of something bigger,” said Greg.

Near Assaria, the Peterson Family runs a diversified crop and cattle operation where next to the cows, wheat is their most important crop. As the brothers are the 5th generation in their family to farm, family is the heart that makes their operation run smoothly.

 “Some families have to go camping to spend time together, but we harvest wheat,” Greg said.

During wheat harvest all six members of the Peterson family are out in the field working. This year was the first for Laura, the youngest Peterson sibling, to drive the hay baler as the Peterson’s bale their wheat straw for cattle feed. Meals in the field are a favorite tradition during many farm families harvest time and the same rings true for the Petersons. However, it isn’t Marla Peterson (Mom) who cooks the food, she is too busy out in the field with the rest of the family helping operating the truck. Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Bruce are the ones in charge of ensuring that the family is fed, and the time spent together in the field enjoying a meal is something that is cherished by all.

Greg believes that wheat harvest in Kansas is something special and is a one of a kind experience that has to be lived to truly be understood.

“The unique thing about it is that it has to be done as soon as the wheat is ripe it has to be cut. The adrenaline and stress that comes with trying to get it all in before a storm that could wipe out your entire crop; it’s not easy.  The is pressure on but at the end all you can do is be thankful that another harvest is done, and another one is yet to come,” he said.

Each year in the spirit of sharing the story of agriculture with others, Greg tries to bring at least one person who has never experienced wheat harvest out to the farm. This year it was Zhiman Xiao, a friend from China that Greg met at K-State.

This time last year, the first video the brothers created had not yet been published. While life has changed dramatically for them in this year, life on the farm is still the same. Greg says the only difference is the amount of likes and responses he gets from his harvest posts.

As for wheat harvest it will always have a special place in Greg’s heart.

“There is never a dull moment, and it is so picturesque, I think it is really a great time of the year,” he said.

For more of the Peterson Farm Brothers wheat harvest and family, check out their YouTube channel and Facebook page and be on the lookout for June’s “Life of a Farmer” video focusing on wheat harvest.

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The Faces of Harvest: Joe Kejr, Salina

Some people say that the family farm has gone extinct, that corporate farming has taken over and the traditions and farms of our grandparents are gone forever. However, at Kejr Family Farms that statement just isn’t true. The Kejr family not only cares about the land, but about working it together, and sharing their story with others.

“It is important for the general public to understand the hard work, the care that is put into how we take care of the ground, the commodity once we harvest it, the dedication that farmers have to raise a quality crop that can be sold to those that have a need for it in the U.S. and around the world.”

Geena and Joe Kejr at their family farm outside of Salina.

Geena and Joe Kejr at their family farm outside of Salina.

Growing and harvesting wheat is a tradition that has been in the Kejr family for 3 generations. Today Joe Kejr and his wife Geena farm with Joe’s brother Mel, nephew Nathan and his wife Rebecca, and Joe’s son, Josh; a recent K-State grad. Together they run a no-till diversified crop operation. Joe and Geena live in the house that Joe grew up in and have enjoyed raising their kids in the same place. Joe sees the operation they have now as a partnership between his family members and takes pleasure in being able to share this lifestyle with his family.

“It’s just a great experience to be able to do what you love and have your family doing it with you. The times that you are able to spend together and the memories you create are something I will always cherish,” Joe said.

Joe’s decision to return home and farm over 36 years ago was about more than being the youngest child with no older siblings wanting to carry on the operation.

“It was the things that excite you about agriculture, that what you do changes on a daily basis, you move from harvest on to the next project, planting or getting the soil ready, working on equipment, getting ready to put the next crop in the ground, the opportunity to help feed the world, and to get to make the decisions in the day to day operations that brings the reward for the effort you put in,” said Joe.

With family at the heart of the Kejr operation a favorite memory of harvest was a difficult thing to pinpoint for Joe. He loves the long hours spent together with family and friends, the adrenaline of trying to beat a storm, the quiet peace and camaraderie of supper time in the field, and getting to share the experience of harvest with younger generations. He and his crew also love the challenge of trying to be the last truck to go through the elevator each day. At the end of harvest the Kejr’s try to have a big “last supper” at the house with everyone who came to help. Joe says that this is a great time to reminisce about all the excitement harvest has brought and allow several stories to be told about the happenings that harvest brought to their family and crew this year.

However through it all, Joe said that the best part of harvest is the family time. After 36 years of harvest, much has changed but that is one thing that will always be the same. The equipment may look different and offers a healthier and cleaner environment for the workers with cabs and air conditioning. They now have bigger headers on the combines and his farming practices have adjusted with the times but at its root this family farm’s tradition will remain.

“The long days are still the same, the family involvement is still the same, but at a bigger scale, we just harvest a lot more acres than we used to,” Joe said.

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