From Belle Plaine to Caldwell to Conway Springs, the annual K-State Wheat Plot Tour gleaned its way across Sumner County, giving results over last year’s wheat plot specimens, discussing this year’s selections and giving local farmer’s food for thought.
The tour began on the evening of May 21 at the farm site of Doug Hisken, only a handful of miles outside of Belle Plaine. The attending farmers were treated to a meal on the farm provided by the night’s sponsor, Hisken Ag, where they had a time to talk and discuss farming topics before the night’s program began. The official tour then started as farmers made their way to the wheat plot site a couple miles away, which stood out as a series of rows of distinguished varieties of wheat hidden within an otherwise-normal-looking wheat field. Doug Shoup, K-State agronomist, associate professor and 10 ½ year tour guide of the Southeast Kansas wheat tours, proceeded to go through each of the 20 different varieties of wheat tested on the Belle Plaine plot, giving his thorough assessment of each one from last year’s results, this year’s expectations and further facts that would inform farmers about the certain variety. While each crop had its strengths, weaknesses, pros and cons, Shoup declared the Zenda and SY Monument varieties to be the best for the area of Belle Plaine, based off its historical rating and current projection for this year’s harvest.
Caldwell was the second location set for the Wheat Plot Tour within Sumner County. Approximately 40 farmers gathered on May 22 to the wheat field of Greg Turek where the same 20 variety of wheat from the Belle Plaine waved while waiting to receive a rating. The evening started off much like the one from the night before, with a shared meal on the field site provided by the Red Barn Café of Caldwell, but with a surprise visit from Congress candidate James Thompson.
Though not a resident of Sumner County or of farming origin, Thompson was given a minute before the wheat tour to introduce himself and give a brief summary of his platform, encouraging farmers to look into his campaign and enlighten him about their views, perspectives and practice so he could try to serve them better.
The wheat tour then officially started, once again led by Shoup, as farmers heard the given ratings, verdicts and projections of the multiple variety of wheat planted at the Caldwell plot site. Though one may expect that the results and information found at Caldwell would be nearly identical to that of Belle Plaine, they’d be surprised to find the information was considerably varied in different areas. Although no variety of wheat stuck out as dead last, Gallagher, SY Bob Dole and SY Benefit shot to the top of the rankings as the best preferred wheat to grow within the Caldwell area.
For the Sumner County wheat plot tour’s last, but definitely not least stop, a number of around 80 farmers met at Tom Pauly’s farm site, just outside Conway Springs. At this particular site, the tour was given first of the varieties of wheat, which held the original 20 of the previous plot sites but held new additions of their own. Allan Fritz, K-State wheat breeder, led this tour along additional insight from representatives of Westbred and AgriPro about their particular varieties.
Of the numerous varieties of wheat planted, there were multiple variety that offered different strengths and benefits depending on the producer’s need, but Fritz judged the Larry variety to be the potentially best for the area, based on its historical record, dependable yield and over all appearance.
Concluding the night’s tour as well as the wheat tour for Sumner County, James Thompson made another guest appearance and Tom Pauly Seed sponsored a meal catered by The Bomb BBQ for farmers to enjoy while reflecting on the year’s results and visiting for as long as they liked.
Touring different plots of varieties of wheat may seem to some like a dry outing. For many who live in the areas or even Sumner County as a whole, however, these wheat plot tours are found to be highly beneficial for making the best decisions of their farming operations that will provide not only the highest and strongest yield, but quality for the consumer who eventually tastes the reward of the countless hours of farming labor. As any farmer might tell you, these decisions are rarely easy or simple to project based off experience or data alone.
“Every year is entirely different, and that’s why we try to have them for the farmers every year,” Fritz said. “It’s good to have them in the area so we can look at the soil and different factors of the area, but hear from the area farmers too about how their varieties are working and what might be the best next step to help them do better.”
According to both Shoup and Fritz, this year’s plots held a variety of surprises as well, many to be yet discovered, based on the spring’s unusually cold April and hot May.
“I will say I was really surprised at just how good the wheat did look and has come since we sprayed it [with fungicide] two weeks ago,” Shoup reported over the Belle Plaine and Caldwell plots. “We’ve had a lot of interesting and weird factors this year come up with just the weather and different factors, but I’m really excited to see how this year’s tests and results come back.”
Although the 2018 K-State Wheat Plot Tour for Sumner County may have come to a close, it seems the work for the year’s wheat has just begun. Whether it’s in a lab breeding and testing new varieties, out on the plots continuing to inspect the growing conditions, or on a combine harvesting the June harvest’s fields of grain, the tour has left many to return to their occupations with new insights to produce the best possible results for this year, plan out growing strategies for next year, and excitedly wait to reveal the results in the future wheat plot tours to come.