Wheat harvest tradition returns across Kansas
Hutchinson Forget school.
Forget the extra-curricular activities like football and basketball. Haven High School Senior Paul Sawatzky doesn't have time for those things.
When the end-of-school bell rings, Paul bolts for his family's farm, The Hutchinson News reports. There is work to be done.
It's the "real life lessons," as Paul puts it.
His grandfather, Leonard Yoder, of Yoder, and parents, Dedra and Steve, have taught him the realities of farming. Even for his early ancestors, farming was an uncertain business. You can't control the rain. You can't control the prices. A hailstorm could take out his entire crop.
He reflects on all this as he circles his grandpa's green combine across a patch of ripened wheat near Hutchinson Wednesday. Harvest has begun.
Wheat harvest is a large part of his family's annual paycheck. The hours are long. The days are dusty and hot.
Yet there is nowhere else the 18-year-old would rather be.
"The combine is my favorite," he said, adding he'd rather be atop a combine "than stuck in a city."
"I've been real fortunate that I grew up on a farm," he said.
Harvest is slowly beginning across Kansas this week.
Near the south-central Kansas town of Kiowa, usually among the first places in Kansas to harvest wheat, OK Co-op Grain General Manager Steve Inslee said Tuesday that farmers were trickling in with grain and expected harvest to get going better in the next few days, barring rain.
This year, however, other parts of Kansas aren't far behind. One farmer began test cutting near Lyons in Rice County on Tuesday. Activity also is happening south of Cunningham in Kingman County.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, an employee at Farmers Co-op Elevator at Pretty Prairie said they had already binned more than 8,000 bushels.
When it is all said and done, thousands will take to the harvest fields to participate in the annual rite. For Kansas farm families, it is a rite steeped in tradition and history.
It is a way of life, said Marilyn Yoder, Paul's grandmother. Their family has helped bring in the state's nearly 9 million acres of wheat each year for five generations.
She drives the combine, too. Daughter Dedra and her husband Steve, along with grandchildren Paul, Sam and Grace, all help out. They custom harvest for a few local farmers, as well as cut their own crop.
Barring breakdowns and the weather, harvest takes about a week, she said.
"I always look forward to harvest," Marilyn said. "I also always look forward to when it is done."
On Wednesday afternoon, the family worked together to custom cut Paul Nisly's wheat fields south of Hutchinson.
Steve Sawatzky drove the grain cart. He hails from the east coast of Canada. Twelve years ago, he and Dedra decided to return to her family farm.
"It's always fun to see the wheat come into the bins," Steve said of the start of harvest.
It's also been a good place to raise their children, Steve said. Both Paul and Sam have aspirations to come back to the farm. Paul said he will graduate from high school next spring.
He's been driving a grain cart and tractor since age 7, he said.
It's not a bin buster harvest, Paul said. Prices are lower, too.
Leonard Yoder called this year's crop just half as good as last year - an average harvest. There was little moisture in the fall and winter. Spring rains didn't come soon enough to better yields.
Now more rain is in the forecast for today through the weekend. That means combines will stop and the wheat's test weights could decline even more. The wheat already is shriveled.
But that's OK. They still need rain for fall crops, Leonard said.
They take what the Lord gives them, said Marilyn.
"The good Lord could take it all away - I've seen that happen," Marilyn said of hail and other weather. "You just have to trust in the Lord."
"There is a lot of faith in wheat harvest. The Lord is the only one who knows if you will have a crop or not."