Harvest in full swing

Chad Frey
Trucks were dropping wheat at Ardent Mills of Newton on Sunday afternoon, with the local harvest between 60 and 70% complete.

A sun-filled June day with temperatures in the 90s found Bruce Cowen sitting in a familiar place, behind the wheel of his grain truck taking wheat to be processed.

The fact that it was Sunday night was not lost on him as he dumped a load at the Ardent Mill facility in Newton.

“They were real nice and opened it up today to keep us going,” Cowen said.

His harvest, he said, was about two-thirds complete. A drive through Harvey County on Sunday showed two things — a few combines in the fields and quite a few wheat fields already cut.

The yield has been all over the map, similar to what is seen in statewide harvest reports. Cowen said his yields have been between 20 and 80 bushels an acre.

And after a rough winter for wheat, he’s not complaining.

“I would have accepted 20,” Cowen said. “... But we got some good hot weather that really helped it.”

Some well-timed rains, followed by warm weather, helped the wheat mature.

“Everything just clicked at the same time,” Cowen said.

Despite being open on Sunday to receive wheat, traffic at the mill was light compared to the lines that were a tradition in Newton just three years ago.

On Sunday, Cowen offered an explanation of where those lines went. About three years ago a new facility opened in Galva, where wheat can be loaded directly into train cars.

“They will pay a little premium there,” Cowen said. “ A lot of the big semis are going there. ... This is just a flour mill, but it is a good-sized one.”

The mill, more than 100 years old, specializes in small-packing. The mill phases 1.3 million bags of flour per day, the Newton mill produces about 50% of the privately labeled small bag consumer products seen on grocery store shelves. Nearly 200 different flours are labeled at the facility.

Typically, the mill receives 19,000 bushels of wheat daily. The mill currently has a storage capacity of 3.5 million bushels of grain.

According to the Harvest report by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Paul Penner who farms near Hillsboro in Marion County, reports that he is just a couple of days into harvest. He received almost 2 inches of rain last week, which made his fields wet and muddy. Now that they've dried out, he is seeing average yields of 50 to 60 bushels per acre. However, because of the dry, hot weather and strong winds during grain fill, he estimates that his area probably lost up to 10 bushels per acre during that time.

"The three weeks of drought during filling really hurt the wheat," he said. "Some of the stand died from heat stress."

Test weights are 58 to 59 pounds per bushel. He reported some surprising freeze damage that he wasn't expecting because he thought his area had escaped it.

What harvest, according to the wheat commission, lasts about 12 to 14 days.