Friday, April 21, 2017

"Heading" Toward Harvest

My Grandpa Neelly believed in the Old Farmer's Almanac. While many people might put their stock in old wives' tales, Grandpa paid more attention to what I'll call "old farmers' tales." Since he lived to age 100, he had plenty of time to accumulate such wisdom. (One that has nothing to do with farming seemed to be that Cramer's Analgesic would fix almost any ailment, but I digress.)

He planted potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, and he consulted the moon for other planting decisions. We'll again test out one of those old farmers' tales this year: It's said that wheat harvest will be 6 weeks after the wheat heads.

If that's the case, we're in for an early harvest here on the County Line. (This does not bode well for my ability to attend the Great Plains UMC annual church conference in early June in Nebraska, but we shall see!)
Whether or not the 6-week figure is accurate, wheat heading does signal the march toward the upcoming harvest. My farmer is a known optimist, a good quality to have for someone whose livelihood depends on weather and a myriad of other uncontrollable factors. But it's easier for everyone to be more optimistic after some timely rains.

We had a dry winter, except for a January ice storm that left behind 2.60 inches of moisture. April has filled the rain gauge more. Early in the month, we had a total of 5.3 inches during a one-week period. This week, we've collected another 0.70" in two separate showers. It was good timing for the wheat, which needs the moisture to fill the heads and produce kernels. Today, we are already getting sprinkles, and additional rainfall is forecast. That's great for the crops and pastures, but it will make the cattle work we've got scheduled for today a little sloppy.

This week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service rated the state's winter wheat crop as 6 percent excellent, 45 percent good and 33 percent fair. About 16 percent is in poor to very poor condition. About 9 percent of the state's wheat has now headed. (Not all our wheat has headed either, just some of our earlier-planted fields.)

Now if only timely rains could be accompanied by a timely bump in wheat prices. As of this morning, wheat was priced at $3.16 per bushel at our local co-op. As we stood in the field earlier this week, Randy said he doesn't think it is cost effective to treat the wheat with fungicide this year. Last year, we paid approximately $10 per acre to have the wheat sprayed with fungicide, which helps control rust and other rust-related diseases in wheat.

However, with the price of wheat at $3.l6, we would need a 3-bushel-per-acre increase in yield to pay for the fungicide. Luckily, we haven't seen any disease pressure in our wheat yet. Now would be the ideal time for spraying since the flag leaf is exposed. The flag leaf - the top leaf - controls a lot of the yield from now until harvest.
We applied herbicide and fertilizer in February, but Randy isn't sure the fertilizer got down to the roots because we didn't have any rain at that time. It needed to be in the root zone by the time the wheat jointed - or by the time the growing point of the head was out of the ground.

As I look at the wheat price, I'm reminded of a quote from John F. Kennedy:
The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale and pays the freight both ways.
After my senior year in high school - 1975 - wheat was $3.54 per bushel. Here we are, 42 years later, and the price is lower than it was then. However, costs for land, machinery and inputs are vastly higher in the same time frame.

Yet the general public has the impression that farmers are sitting around with our hands out, getting rich. Maybe those detractors should look at the size of our operating loan right about now.

It's a good thing that farmers are generally an optimistic bunch.


  1. I hope your farmer's optimism is richly rewarded.
    Another very insightful read. Thanks.

    1. I appreciate his optimism! It's a good quality to have in a husband!

  2. Kim, there is a lot of agricultural education in this post. Thanks for helping this farmer's daughteršŸŒ¾

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, James, and thanks for taking time to comment!