Friday, June 30, 2017

By the Numbers: Wheat Harvest 2017

Wheat Harvest 2017 is now in the rearview mirror.
Photo taken June 22, 2017
We finished up the afternoon of June 28 after starting on June 12. This year's start to harvest was pretty consistent with the past eight years. (I have good records since 2010 because I've been blogging that long). Our start dates are:

2010:  June 18
2011:  June 10
2012:  May 26 (an anomaly and the earliest harvest, by far, we've ever had)
2013:  June 21
2014:  June 17
2015:  June 20
2016:  June 15
2017:  June 12

It took us 2 weeks and 3 days to bring in the 1,341.7 acres planted to wheat. Some years, we have a custom cutter harvest a portion of our wheat acres. However, we bought a new-to-us combine at a farm auction in the spring of 2016, and we're still paying off the loan for that. Plus, the wheat prices don't leave a lot of margin for profits. So we decided to cut it all ourselves.
Photo taken June 22, 2017
Our overall average was 50.84 bushels per acre. We had a low average of 30 and a high of 80 bushels per acre. After a dry winter and early spring, Randy was thrilled with the totals. Some late spring rains came at just the right time for the filling of the wheat heads, and we are thankful! 

Wheat Harvest 2017 actually started with Wheat Harvest 2016. (Notice how I capitalize Wheat Harvest. It's a "Big Deal" to our farm. By far, wheat is our biggest crop.)
Photo from June 16, 2016, blog post
Each year, we plant some certified seed, which we use for seed wheat for the following year. Randy binned KanMark (a K-State release) and WB 4458 (a WestBred variety) to plant for seed wheat for our 2017 crop. During the 2016 harvest, we binned the seed wheat in on-farm storage.
Then, last July, we took the wheat to be cleaned to Miller Seed Farms. (See blog post: A Kernel of the Process: Cleaning Seed Wheat.)
In late September and early October 2016, we began planting wheat for our 2017 crop. 
Planting into the sunset, October 2016
21 - 17 - 0.  I refreshed my memory on the Farm Wife Secret Code as I hauled fertilizer tanks from the Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op to the field and back again.
By mid-October 2016, the wheat was emerging and was off to a good start. See blog post: And So It Begins Again.
In February 2017, the Kanza Co-op applied nitrogen fertilizer and Finesse herbicide.
In early April, we were thankful for Sunshine and Muddy Tennis Shoes - some rain after a very dry winter.
By April 21, we were Heading Toward Harvest. The wheat was heading, and according to an old wives' tale, we were 6 weeks away from harvest. It turned out to be about right.
By early June, we were at that "awkward stage" - the wheat ... not the "model."
This year's overall average of 50.84 bushels per acre made it our second best crop ever. Our 2013 crop averaged 52 bushels per acre and proved the theory that wheat has nine lives.

Yield averages in the past few years have been:

2010: 37.2 bu/acre
2011: 36.7 bu/acre
2012: 45.5 bu/acre
2013: 52 bu/acre
2014: 24.5 bu/acre
2015: 50 bu/acre
2016: 48.5 bu/acre
2017: 50.84 bu/acre
And that, as they say in show business, is a wrap.

THE END ... until a new beginning for Wheat 2018.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Harvesting the Sky

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee –
~Emily Dickinson, c.1879

"A harvest sky yields bounty to the eyes and weary soul."
Kim Fritzemeier, Kansas farm wife

That wasn't on the Quote Garden list of "sky" quotes. Maybe Kim Fritzemeier, farm wife, could be added to the likes of Emily Dickson and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

OK ... maybe not. But some days, the harvest sky has made the seemingly endless trips to and from the field and the emergency parts runs a little more palatable.

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Good old Ralph probably didn't know much about wheat harvest, but as we do our part to bring that "daily bread" into reality, I thought his quote was appropos. Sunsets are much more interesting with clouds. There's a lesson there somewhere, I'm sure.

Last Friday, I'd made two trips to Hutchinson to pick up parts at Case. That brought my 24-hour total to three trips.
That evening, instead of riding with Randy in the combine as is my usual modus operandi, I opted to stay behind to take photos of the shifting skies as day turned into evening.

It was a glorious show.
And, unlike the parts runs, it was totally free of charge.
It was almost as if Randy were harvesting the sun itself as the sun dipped toward the horizon ...
... and he emptied the combine after yet another trip down the field.
Wheat dust always makes me a little itchy. But I'd have to say it was worth a little discomfort to witness a particularly beautiful sunset.
I've had a few other favorite sky shots from this harvest. One dramatic sky heralded the arrival of Jill and the girls on the evening of June 15.
They arrived about the same time as the storm did.
Dark clouds become heaven's flowers when kissed by light.
 ~Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds
We got a rain shower during the night, but I hope it wasn't enough to prevent one more day of harvest. If we're able to cut, we should get done today. Here's hoping!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Connecting with Consumers: Carbetarians Unite!

Leaving the farm during wheat harvest isn't standard operating procedure. Well, unless it's a flying trip to the parts counter. (Is it a bad thing when they call you by name when you walk in the door of the Case dealership? Yes, yes, it is. But it happens when you visit the parts counter three times in 24 hours.)

Anyway, on June 17, I didn't make a parts run or a grocery store stop. I drove 2 3/4 hours (one way) to Manhattan for the National Festival of Breads.
I could say it was for these two cuties. But in reality, they live in Manhattan and were going with their mom and dad anyway.
Plus, they know a little bit about wheat after visiting Grandpa Randy's and Grandma Kim's farm during harvest and having specially-designed reading material about farm life from Grandma.

I try to do my part in connecting the farm with consumers through blogging, something I've done since beginning Kim's County Line in January 2010. But face-to-face interaction is better in the long run. So I spent some time on Saturday, June 17, in the children's activities area of the National Festival of Breads. (I actually worked with the two ladies below, and yes, I intentionally moved out of the photo when it was taken.)
Photos from Kansas Wheat
With all the gluten-free promotion and companies marketing "non-GMO" to consumers, it's important for those of us in production agriculture to tell our stories. Goodness knows, popular restaurants and so-called nutrition experts aren't shy about doing it.  (For the record, there is no GMO wheat commercially available at this time. And yes, those with celiac disease must avoid gluten. However, many of those who don't have celiac disease avoid gluten based on inaccurate information from non-medical professionals who make unsubstantiated claims.)
So I was glad to do my part to develop a new generation of "Carbetarians" at the National Festival of Breads by baking up silver-dollar-sized pancakes featuring three grains grown in Kansas - wheat, soy and corn.  The smell of freshly-baked pancakes had little consumers and their families lining up for a nibble.
The children also got to mix together the dry ingredients to take home to use to make their own pancakes.
Kinley and Brooke already help in the kitchen at home, but I hope it gave other children - and their families - a glimpse of using Kansas-produced commodities to make nutritious, cost-conscious meals at home.

Our daughter Jill also helped behind the scenes in the afternoon, setting up and cleaning up for the on-stage demonstrations.
She grew up on a farm and is a dietitian who went to school for five years to study nutrition and the role it plays in our lives. She promotes eating a balanced diet, all things in moderation, including carbohydrates and gluten.
Earlier in the week, Kinley and Brooke had experienced harvesting the wheat with Grandpa Randy.
The girls learned that Mommy had driven the truck during harvest during her high school years. But at the Festival of Breads, the girls - and other children - tried their hand at grinding wheat with a mortar and pestle. 
They tried a hand grinder ...
... and then an electric grinder, taking on milling in miniature and making whole wheat flour.
While our two granddaughters had just ridden a combine that week at our Central Kansas farm and have a tangential connection to Kansas agriculture, fewer and fewer consumers do these days. In 1870, 50 percent of the U.S. population was directly involved in agriculture. Today, farm families comprise less than 2 percent of the population.

So, in a nutshell, that's why I left the farm during the middle of wheat harvest. (I left the noon meal in the slow cooker and had the supper coolers packed and in the fridge, ready for the guys to grab at noon. Randy worked it out so they could be in the same general area and didn't need to move repeatedly during the day. And we all hoped and prayed for no breakdowns since the go-fer parts runner was hours from home. Thankfully, all that worked out.)
Timing for the festival is a legitimate question, and one that I heard on Sunday at church.

"Why would they schedule a Festival of Breads in Kansas during wheat harvest? Aren't people too busy? Doesn't it make it harder to involve farm families?"

Yes, summer is busy. Yes, it does make it harder to involve farm families. But, yes, it makes perfect sense. If I had any question, it was answered as I talked to some of the eight finalists.
Photo from the Kansas Wheat Facebook page
The day before the baking competition, the contestants traveled to a wheat farm near Brookville in Central Kansas. They took turns riding a John Deere combine as it "ate" its way across a golden field of ripened wheat. For most of them, it was their first time on a farm, their first ride on a combine and the first time they'd had a chance to talk directly to a farmer about producing the wheat that will eventually end up in the flour they'll put in their shopping carts and make into meals for their families and entries for the cooking contests they love.
Lunch for contestants and others in a farm shed on June 16, 2017 - From Kansas Wheat's Facebook page
After I completed my volunteer time in the children's area at the Festival, I talked to several of the finalists as they made their winning recipes three times during the day.
Cleveland, Ohio, baker Michele Kusma was ready for a job on a farm during wheat harvest. I told her it could be arranged.

She and the other finalists will go back to their homes in Maryland, Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Utah, Missouri and Minnesota with a story to tell.  The people in their communities may actually listen to them more readily. They can tell about their trip to a Kansas farm. They can share their memories of hospitality offered by Kansans and farm families. 

And that's why I left home during harvest to go, as did several of my fellow producers.

Here's the recipe for the pancakes we served. (I should have taken more photos, but I was too busy mixing ingredients and making pancakes)! For recipes from the finalists and more bread baking tips, visit the National Festival of Breads website.

Three-Grain Pancakes
From the National Festival of Breads
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups soy milk or regular milk
1 tbsp. corn oil
3 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients and mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry all at once. Whisk until blended and still a little lumpy.

Pour 1/8 cup batter onto a hot, lightly greased frying pan or griddle. Flip when pancake has bubbly surface and slightly dry edges.

When cooked through, remove pancakes. Serve with butter, maple syrup, jelly, etc., if desired.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rising to the Occasion: National Festival of Breads

Ronna Farley and her Seeded Corn and Onion Bubble Loaf.
Ronna Farley had a big smile on her face when I visited her kitchen at the Festival of Breads competition last Saturday. Her first attempt at baking her Seeded Corn and Onion Bubble Loaf had come out of the pan cleanly. If you've ever made anything in a Bundt pan, you know there's no guarantee: Part could end up on the cooling rack while some is stuck in the pan.
But after carefully inching her way around each crook and crevice with an ice pick, the bubble loaf was out in one piece, looking evenly browned and with that unmistakable fragrance of freshly-baked yeast bread combined with an undertone of onion.

She had more reasons to smile that evening. Her Seeded Corn and Onion Bubble Loaf won the grand prize at the 5th biennial National Festival of Breads.

She and seven other finalists spent the time from 7 AM Saturday morning until 2:45 or so that afternoon making their recipes three different times. By 3, each had delivered her best effort to a judge's room for evaluation.

Farley traveled to Kansas from her home in Rockville, Maryland, where she works as a cashier in a grocery store. She gets inspiration for developing original recipes based on the ingredients she rings up for customers as they empty their carts onto the supermarket conveyor belt.
I especially love seeing what people from other countries are buying and the different ideas of ingredients I should try in recipes. Sometimes I'll even ask them, 'What are you doing with that?' or 'What is that?' because there are different things we sell that I don't even know what they are.
Ronna Farley as quoted in the Festival of Breads recipe book
As the 2017 National Festival of Breads champion, Farley received $2,000 cash, plus a trip to attend a baking class of her choice at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. She will receive 120 envelopes of Red Star Yeast. 

This was Farley's second time as a top eight finalist in the Festival of Breads. Like several of the competitors, she is no stranger to cooking contests.  Patrice Hurd has been chosen as a finalist in a dozen national contests. Three times, she's been a contestant in the "grandmother" of them all - the Pillsbury Bakeoff. Once you've competed a trio of times, you're no longer eligible at Pillsbury. She's also been a finalist in the national beef cookoff, Build A Better Burger and Midwest Living events, among others.
Patrice Hurd and her Toasted Cardamom Nordic Crown.
But Patrice was glad to be back at the National Festival of Breads in Kansas. She was also a finalist in the 2015 contest. This time, her recipe was Toasted Cardamom Nordic Crown

"It's a fun hobby to compete in these contests," Patrice said. "You meet people who are just as crazed about doing this as I am. We get to know one another, and it's kind of like family when we get together."

There's a family feel to the National Festival of Breads competition itself, she said. 

"At the Pillsburg Bakeoff, there are 100 finalists, so you're basically a number," Patrice said Saturday as she worked on her bread recipe. "This contest (Festival of Breads) has so much heart and a real down-home feeling. I was thrilled to get back here. The organizers take care of every single detail. They do everything to make you feel welcome and make it an experience to remember." 

One of those experiences was her first-ever ride on a combine. Though it was on the schedule in 2015, a drizzly day kept the contestants from truly experiencing a Kansas wheat harvest. This year, Patrice and other contestants traveled on Friday to the Brookville farm of Joe and Geena Kejr where they took turns riding the John Deere combine. They also toured the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan and the Farmer Direct Foods Inc. flour mill in New Cambria. It gave them a glimpse at how wheat grown and harvested in Kansas ultimately becomes flour that can be used in their kitchens scattered across the U.S.
Michele Kusma with her Mexican Street Corn Skillet Bread.
Contestant Michele Kusma from Columbus, Ohio, loved the combine ride, too. This was the first time she was a National Festival of Breads finalist and her first visit to Kansas.

"It was just awesome," Michele bubbled. "It was interesting and beautiful to see the wheat being harvested." 

Michele, too, is a contest veteran. As she developed her recipe for Mexican Street Corn Skillet Bread, she was thinking about flavors that consumers tend to enjoy.
Though she's a contest pro now, she didn't grow up baking. Michele turned to creating recipes and baking as an outlet after her second bout with breast cancer.

"My mother didn't bake bread. My grandmother didn't bake bread. It was me and YouTube," Michele said with a laugh. "I love baking, and you might as well love what you do. None of us know how long we have on this earth, so we need to pursue the things that give us joy."
Jane Fry (on the right) and her kitchen assistant look over her Southwest Focaccia.
It definitely wasn't finalist Jane Fry's first time on a combine or in a Kansas wheat field. Jane didn't have to hop on an airplane to get to Manhattan. She was down the road in Elk Falls, Kansas.

Like many Kansas cooks, her love of baking dates back to her days in 4-H. This was her second time as one of the Top 8 in the National Festival of Breads. This time, her recipe was Southwest Focaccia.

Jane isn't just an expert in shaping bread. She and her husband, Steve, also shape stoneware, much with a wheat theme. Each piece is individually made on a potter’s wheel or by other hand methods, glazed, decorated and fired. The business has grown, but remains a small family enterprise to provide the kind of “home-grown” lifestyle. In 1987, Jane incorporated her love for quilts by developing a line of porcelain pins and earrings using traditional quilt patterns as well as original and custom designs, which are sold under the name Elk Falls Piecemakers.
Fellow contestant Kellie White grew up on a farm near Westmoreland, Kansas, though she now resides in Valley Park, Missouri. Her entry, Orange Spice Anadama Wreath with Walnuts and Dates, won the People's Choice award voting the day of the festival. Her Kansas fan club cheered loudly when those results were announced Saturday afternoon. Festival goers could vote for their favorites by depositing $1 in voting jars. Those efforts raised more than $600 for the Flint Hills Bread Basket, a local food pantry.

She credits her love of baking to her mom and also to a neighbor lady named Ethel who shared a day of baking with Kellie as a young girl and also gave their family gifts of homemade bread at Christmas.
One of Shauna Havey's Butternut Romesco Braid's was shaped and rising, while she had another dough rising.
On the other hand, contestant Shauna Havey didn't grow up baking. The Roy, Utah, finalist began experimenting in the kitchen after marrying her husband. The mother of two prefers savory recipes, so she developed Butternut Romesco Braid
Pam Correll shapes her Orange Marmalade Breakfast Crescents.
Pam Correll was hoping for a "sweet" victory with her Orange Marmalade Breakfast Crescents. The smells of orange zest and fresh orange juice permeated the work station for the Brockport, Pennsylvania, baker. The FACS teacher enjoys teaching her students to bake from scratch.

"It's becoming a lost art," Correll said. This was the Pennsylvania baker's second time to enter the Festival of Breads, and two of her recipes were awarded honorable mention in 2015. The 2017 contest was her first as one of the eight top finalists.
Turmeric-Rosemary and Sweet Potato Rosettes
Somehow I missed talking to Tiffany Aaron, whose recipe was Turmeric-Rosemary and Sweet Potato Rosettes. Aaron is from Quitman, Arkansas, but she grew up in Montana. In her interview included in the festival brochure, she says her father-in-law supplied all the sweet potatoes she used for her experimentation and recipe development. In 2015, she had won an honorable mention. This year, she only entered the one recipe, but it still got her included in the Top 8. The mother of five brought her middle daughter with her to Kansas to experience all the festival happenings.

The National Festival of Breads, the nation’s only amateur bread-baking competition, is sponsored by King Arthur Flour, Red Star Yeast and the Kansas Wheat Commission. Many more recipes from previous years' contests, as well as bread baking tips, are available at the National Festival of Breads website. Check it out.

I volunteered at the festival. Watch for my next blog post about why I took time during our own wheat harvest to travel to Manhattan and help out!