Farmers look for right wheat fields to cut

Alice Mannette
Justin Kerschen harvests wheat Wednesday in Reno County.

Sometimes, finding the right wheat field to cut can be like going on a scavenger hunt. Some fields are too green, others are too moist, but eventually farmers find the perfect one.

That is exactly what happened to Martin Kerschen, who farms in both Sedgwick and Reno counties. Beginning on June 13, Kerschen and his son Justin Kerschen began harvesting their more than 1,600 acres of wheat. Sometimes when they moved to a new field, the wheat wasn’t quite right, so they moved on to a different field.

Kerschen is on the border of where farmers are cutting. To the south of him, in Cowley and Barber counties, harvest started last week.

Marsha Boswell, a spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, reported farmers in Barber County are seeing better than expected yields, mostly in the mid-40s, with protein levels slightly lower than average, ranging from 9-10%.

As for Cowley County, where they began harvesting on June 5, Boswell reports yields are higher than expected and test weights have averaged around 63 pounds. Boswell is crisscrossing the state, examining wheat and writing The 2020 Harvest Report.

Like Kerschen, farmers in Cheney in Sedgwick County reported to Boswell that some fields are ready to cut while others are either too green or too moist. However, yields are averaging 15 to 20% better than expected.

Boswell is pleased with the harvest so far, but she is concerned about counties in central and northern Kansas.

“They had a lot of freeze damage up north,” she said.

Kerschen said he is happy with harvest so far. His yields are averaging 70 bushels per acre. The fields that were sprayed with fungicide are a few days behind the ones that were not sprayed.

Kerschen, a fifth-generation farmer, enjoys what he does. Both he and his son Justin received degrees from Kansas State University, and both felt the calling to return to the land they grew up on in Garden Plain. Kerschen’s grandson, 3-year-old Thomas, soon to be a seventh-generation farmer, wants to help with the harvest — but sometimes he has to stop for nap time.

“The yields have been excellent,” Kerschen said. “We’re in the sweet part of the state. We had good rains this year.”

As more farmers are steering away from wheat, Kerschen is staying with this tried and true grain. Kerschen rotates his wheat crops with soybeans, giving the ground more nutrients.

“We want to use as little herbicide as possible,” Kerschen said. “The double crop is helping with weeds and keeping more moisture in the soil.”

Justin Kerschen harvests wheat Wednesday in Reno County.