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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Out Scouting The Kansas Wheat

Did you know that farmers aren’t the only ones that go out and scout the growing crops in the field?  My brother does not work on our farm, but he does work for a large grain company that also needs to know how much wheat, corn and other crops will be grown each year.  The Wheat Quality Council sponsors an annual Kansas Wheat Quality tour.  While most would think that my brother and others interested in the wheat crop in Kansas would join in this trip, that assumption would be wrong.  He tries to go out before the tour so his company knows what they are going to see in the reports coming from the tour.  Usually, he goes the week before, but with all the cold weather this year he decided to try to stay a day ahead of the tour.
If you happened to see this car and 2 people on their knees in a wheat field, you may have seen us.
My brother (who we will call Estal to protect his innocence for being associated with me his crazy older sister) invited me to join him on this week’s tour.  For those of you that don’t know, most of the Hard Red Winter Wheat in America is grown in western Kansas.  Not an area known for its tourism or population, but has lots of fields.  We logged 600 miles the first day. 

The fields in Central Kansas were pretty wet first thing in the morning actually most of the morning. 
This is how wet they really were...

My job was to count the number of tillers (stems) in one foot of a row.  I had to count both rows on each side of the tape measure.

We saw lots of wheat fields. 

Some were really good…

Some were good…

Some were too little for me to tell much from…

In fields that he suspected had already been damaged by the cold weather, he cut off a handful of plants.  Looking at where he cut, if the damage is really bad, you can see where some of the tillers had already died.  We only found damage like that in one isolated field.
While I was taking my counts (I am really slow), he would cut open the stems and look for the wheat heads.  This was pretty precise work. 

I wasn’t given a knife.

I think he thought we would end up at the emergency room. 

Inside the stem, he would find the wheat head. 

I found that if you look really close at the heads you can see if there is any freeze damage.  A good head will be all green.  A freeze damaged head might be brown, or mushy.

We saw wheat in all stages.

We also found lots of bugs in the fields.  If we saw a lady bug, we looked for aphids and usually found them.  FYI  Ladybugs love to eat aphids.  These were winter grain mites.  (See the little black specks on the paper?)

With the snow in Kansas today, I am not sure what all of our tour is going to tell us long term.  I did have a good time even though we covered 31 wheat fields, 1100 miles all in 2 days.

I am happy to say that Estal and I were still speaking at the end of our journey.  I heard his co-workers had a pool going on how long we would get along.  I think a few of them may have lost some money.  ;)

Want to know what we look for in a corn field?  Check out this post.

-A Kansas Farm Mom