Layne Ensz loves growing wheat. Not only does he love the golden color, but he enjoys the sound the stalks make as they rustle in the Kansas breeze.
As a child, Ensz played with toy tractors while his father harvested. When he turned 18, he was harvesting full time. Now in his 30s, he still loves the crop. He grows it exclusively on his farm in Inman.
Like many wheat farmers, he is eager to harvest. Farmers across southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma started their combines over the weekend, but as of Monday and Tuesday, Ensz’ wheat was just a bit too moist.
Ensz hopes his wheat is dry enough by Wednesday. Marsha Boswell, a spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission, thinks it should be. By the end of the week, she said, Reno County and Garden City should be rolling.
"All across the southern counties (of Kansas) are going good," Boswell said. "With these super hot, windy, dry conditions, it should be good."
Boswell spoke with co-ops in Labette, Meade and Barber counties. Farmers in Montgomery and Labette counties began cutting on Friday, with Barber County beginning its harvest on Saturday. According to Boswell, Meade County’s harvest is 30% complete, and Pratt County started harvesting on Monday.
Boswell said about 85% of Labette and Montgomery counties’ wheat is hard red winter wheat, with the remaining 15% being soft red winter wheat. So far, quality is good, with test weights on HRW averaging 62.5 pounds per bushel and SRW averaging 60 pounds per bushel. Protein is averaging 10.5 to 11%, and yields are near average.
"The yields are pretty good," she said. "A little bit above average. The press weight is way above average."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, for the week ending June 14, winter wheat condition rated 6% very poor, 15% poor, 34% fair, 40% good and 5% excellent. Winter wheat coloring was 89%, ahead of 70% last year, and near 85% for the five-year average. Mature was 32%, ahead of 16% last year. Harvested was 9%, ahead of 1% last year, and near 8% average.
"I think we’ll see some pretty decent wheat," Boswell said. "We’ll just have to see."
Ensz, who runs L.E. Harvesting and custom cuts a couple of thousand acres, has 300 acres of his own wheat to cut.
"It doesn’t come without stress," he said. "But if you don’t break down and you have clear weather, it’s very fun."
For Ensz’ grandfather-in-law, Percy Mastry, who grew up between Scott City and Oakley, the wheat harvest has changed quite a bit. During the 1940s, he was driving a tractor and pulling a combine. It wasn’t until 1953 that he was able to buy a red Massey Harris combine and sit up top.
At 89, Mastry no longer farms, but he enjoys speaking with his daughters and two grandchildren who do.
"It’s totally different now," Mastry said.
Not only can Ensz ride in an air-conditioned cabin on his 2011 John Deere, but he can tell the wheat’s moisture and run a GPS.