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Wheat Harvest Gears Up in S.Kansas

June 6, 2000

KIOWA, Kan. (AP) _ Custom cutter Kent Braathen had barely finished a test cutting of winter wheat when last week’s rains halted harvest before it got a chance to gear up.

But by Monday, the hot sun had dried the muddy fields and brought with it the start of wheat harvest in Kiowa.

At the custom cutters’ camp, Braathen and his father, Gordon, stopped by his trailer for lunch before assembling his crew _ three generations of family members _ and heading out to the fields to work that afternoon. They have been coming here for 30 years to harvest wheat.

Kent Braathen’s 2-year-old son, Jace, is on the trip this season for his first harvest run, which for this family begins in Kiowa in June and ends in August at home in Grand Forks, N.D.

``You want to ride in the combine?″ the father asks his young son.

``Not wet?″ the boy asks.

The child’s question brings wide grins to both men.

``It’s in his blood,″ the grandfather says.

It was a question asked again and again in wheat fields across southern Kansas and at grain elevators where farmers bring in samples of their crop to test for moisture content to see whether it is ready to harvest.

The answer _ the wheat is ready _ brought a noticeable quickening in the pace of life Monday in this otherwise quiet rural hamlet.

Massive green combines rattled the windows of downtown businesses as they rolled through town on their way to fields. The first wheat-laden semitrailers began lining up at the O.K. Co-op Grain Co., where a sign on the door said wheat was $2.38 a bushel.

Within hours of the start of harvest, the elevator had taken in more than 5,200 bushels of wheat. It was still too early to tell how the yields would turn out, but weights stood in the standard 60-pound-per-bushel range. Moisture content was an acceptable 13 percent.

``It is going to be above-average yields, but nothing like the last two years,″ says Jeff Kimmell, assistant elevator manager.

The difference, he says, depends on whether farmers got their fields fertilized before the March rains that kept farmers out of their fields until it was too late for the fertilizer to do much good.

The harvest camps around this southern Kansas town of 1,000 are beginning to fill up with custom cutters and their crews, hired from as far away as Australia and Germany. The seven- to 10-day harvest in Kiowa will be the first exposure to small town America for many.

At the John Deere equipment dealership down the street, service manager Pat Myers has already leased 30 combines to the cutters. It is a common practice for custom cutters to trade in combines at each harvest so they have a machine with a new warranty as they work their way across the nation following the harvest.

For the next days, the talk of the town will be the progress of the winter wheat harvest and the quality of the crop.

Back at the cutters’ camp, Kent Braathen says he has already seen some heat-stressed fields with smaller wheat kernels.

At the grain elevator, Kimmell says he expects to see lower test weights than the 60-pounds-per-bushel in the first loads brought in.

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