(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Combines have been spotted in fields recently, about two to three weeks ahead of a typical Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas wheat harvest.
Professor Drew Lyon of Scottsbluff, a dryland crop specialist with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, said recently that high winds "just suck more moisture" from the plants already stressed by a lack of rain in May.
High temperatures have also sped up wheat maturation. McCook has recorded two triple digits days already -- the 102 degrees on May 26 was a new record. Many days have been in the high 90s, setting or tying eight new record highs.
In general, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting smaller winter wheat crops, anticipating only 50.8 million bushes, down 15 percent from a May 1 forecast and 22 percent less than last year. The department expects yields to average 40 bushes per acre; that's down seven bushes from last month, five from last year and 1.4 below a 10-year average.
The USDA blames much of the decline on fewer acres planted -- 1.27 million acres, which is 12 percent less than last year and the fewest since 1917. Officials are saying that many producers planted corn instead of wheat because of higher profits.
Terry Sydow of Stratton was cutting Danny and Thomas Rife's wheat Wednesday. "I think we're gonna be pleased with it," Terry said, explaining that Rife's wheat crop west of Stratton on Highway 34 is planted in sandy soil, and he's expecting 45 bushels an acre. "Not too bad," he mused.
Sydow has equipped his green John Deere combine with a blue Shelbourne "stripper" header -- space-aged and aerodynamic-looking. "Instead of a direct cut, it's a 'stripper' header," Sydow said. "It's good for no-till because it leaves more stubble ... to protect the soil from erosion, preserve moisture and leave nutrients for the next crop."
Terry chuckled, "The field's not as neat and tidy as it is with a sickle head. It's ragged with a stripper header." But looks don't count when it comes to protecting the soil and preparing it for its next crop.
Some producers like the Shelbourne stripper header for its ability to pick up downed and hailed wheat. One user commented on a combine forum website: "A stripper header is like a vacuum, it will suck up the lodged wheat.