September is the bridge between summer and fall. The sun’s angle is still high enough to provide plenty of warmth, but its light fades faster in the evening. Cottonwoods are already dropping golden leaves. Football seasons are underway even if tailgating is on hiatus for the year. And across Kansas, September is when fall harvest starts in earnest.
For those of us not working in the fields, the most visible sign of harvest will be combines, tractors, grain carts and other slow-moving implements on the road. Remember to be on the lookout for these vehicles. Take your time and pass only when it’s safe. Like you, farmers are anxious to be off the road and at their destination.
But for the next few weeks, the roads will be busy because unlike the mad dash to bring in wheat in early summer, fall harvest is a marathon.
Harvest started for Haskell County farmer Paige Clawson in August when corn silage was chopped. Clawson says they wrapped up their dryland corn harvest about a week before cold, wet weather brought everything to a halt.
“We’re hoping to get back in the field (this) week,” she says of the wait for irrigated corn to ripen. “The past few years we’ve had pretty phenomenal dryland corn, and I think this dryland corn would be an average to below average western Kansas dryland corn crop. Nothing to write home about.”
Clawson says she hasn’t seen the numbers on the final yields. “It was lower than I’d like to see but isn’t that always the answer.”
In south central Kansas, Stafford County farmer Justin Vosburgh took advantage of the rain to prep his machinery to be in the fields in a week or so.
“I’m actually excited for this fall harvest,” Vosburgh says. “I think it’s one of the best dryland crops we will cut in Stafford, Edwards, Pawnee and Pratt counties in a long time. Irrigated looks good, too.”
Weather permitting, Vosburgh says he hopes to start harvest by mid-September and will spend the next six to eight weeks hauling in corn, milo and soybeans and planting next year’s wheat crop.
“Mother Nature plays a huge role,” he says. “Basically, from the 15th of September to the 31st of October, we’ll either be in the harvest field or we’ll be drilling wheat. It’s probably the busiest time of the year for us. A lot will happen.”
While the recent rains didn’t come in time to boost Clawson’s dryland corn, it did perk up the milo.
“You can tell where you rotated milo and had summer fallow and where you didn’t,” she says. “I think a couple recent rains have saved the crop that was going backward faster than we’d like to see.”
Both Vosburgh and Clawson say they haven’t really felt the effects of the pandemic on their farms.
“Probably my biggest fear right now is will COVID-19 cause us a problem,” Vosburgh says. “Will it cause us a problem at an elevator? Will they have employees get sick? Will we get shorthanded? Those are issues you think about.”
Clawson says the only difference she’s noticed is curbside pickup for parts and a few items on backorder.
“We’re just trying to stay on the farm and not go to town as often as we normally would,” she says.
The pandemic is just another in a long line of uncertainties in farming. Yet farmers and ranchers somehow always find a silver lining. With harvest delayed by rain, Clawson was already looking toward the future.
“It will be nice to put wheat into moisture after not putting it into moisture last year,” she says.