By LESLIE EIKLEBERRY
GYPSUM - The Knopf family had some high-powered harvest help Saturday as U.S. Senator Jerry Moran and new Kansas State University President Richard Linton visited the farm just northwest of Gypsum.
Justin Knopf said his family had just started harvesting wheat on Friday. Although he has yet to be able to determine yield, he did say that the moisture content of the wheat was approximately 10 percent, which was under the limit of 13 percent moisture. Knopf said that he expected yields to be below average, in part because of dry conditions earlier in the growing season.
Farmers are scrambling
With soaring temperatures and drying winds, wheat harvest has moved quickly into the heartland of Kansas, causing some farmers to scramble and others, like the Knopfs, to juggle multiple farming tasks under time and weather restraints, such as spring seeding, putting up hay, taking care of weeds, and, of course, wheat harvest.
"Everything's kind of stacked up," Knopf said. "All of us farmers are scrambling, trying to get our spring crops, milo mostly now, milo and a few soy beans finished up before the moisture leaves. We been at 100 degrees to upper 90s every day, so evaporation rates are really high, so we're putting a priority on getting that crop in."
Knopf said that while he wasn't trying to make a political statement, he did believe the weather has become more extreme. He noted that the area had gone from drought conditions to having 10-to-11 inches of rain to then being hit with 100-degree weather within a matter of a few months.
"It is incredibly challenging to grow things with that type of extremes," Knopf said.
The evolution of harvest storage in Kansas
Knopf noted that when he was growing up, farmers utilized the small-town grain elevators.
"When I was young, we would haul all of our grain to Kipp or to Gypsum. There were rail spurs going out to all those little grain elevators. So that's what it was like 30 years ago," Knopf said.
Now, the rail spurs have been taken out and the farms have grown in size, prompting farmers to haul their grain to larger terminal elevators.
"So all our grain goes into Salina to Scoular, Cargill, and ADM," he said.
Knopf said he knew of farmers 100 miles away who would arrange for their grain to be trucked to the big terminal elevators at Salina.
A K-State project update
During the visit, Linton provided an update on a project K-State has been working on for a number of years that he said would affect farmers.
He said the university received money from the State of Kansas to support an agriculture innovation project.
"The idea is to be able to build a $125 million integrated project which takes advantage of agronomy, grain science, milling, feed science, food animal, and food science," Linton said.
The university plans to renovate Call Hall and Weber Hall into a new facility that also will support grain science and milling, he explained.
"So Schellenberger will go away and we'll now be able to walk into a facility that says we are No. 1 in the world and we're moving forward," Linton told the group.
Additionally, plans are in the works for a new agronomy research and development center that will be located by the agronomy farms near the football stadium, he said. The center will be two facilities. One to support laboratory research and development and the other to support field science.
"The project will happen fast. We have to have all of the projects done by December 2026, which is when the state-directed dollars because of COVID must be spent," Linton said. "So you're likely to hear about this project a lot over the next couple of weeks and couple of months. It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise this industry."
"What happens at Kansas State University is among the most important things that determine the future for much of Kansas, and certainly our part of Kansas, and to have a dean of a college of agriculture now the president, that's a great development," Moran said.
Linton smiled and said, "Eat your Wheaties. Put on your crash helment. Fasten your seatbelt."
Integration important to farming
Knopf said farmers are thinking more about integration, including integration into the supply chain.
"We had Bimbo Bakeries, the largest baker in the world, I believe, at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, some of their upper management, not just a week ago, two weeks ago. So they were there talking about regenerative agriculture, but also just about grain quality, how the baking industry is changing, how the wheat varieties that are flowing in, wheat that's going into their bakeries needs certain characteristics, consistency so that integration across the stakeholders is increasingly more relevant," he said.
What does that mean for wheat farmers like Knopf? It has become increasingly more important for Knopf to not only determine what varieties of wheat will do well on the types of soil his family farms while factoring in for potential weather conditions, bit also to determine what types of wheat will yield the types of grain needed for the baking industry.
"Yield and agronomics has to lead that, but we will certainly make decisions based on quality when we're deciding," Knopf said.
Farming a long-standing family tradition
Knopf noted that he and his brother, Jeff, are the fifth generation of farmers in their family. They farm with their immediate families, and their parents, Jerry and Karlene. He also showed a grouping of historic family photos, talking about some of the farmers that came before him.
The most fun day
Before the group headed to the field, Knopf thanked Moran and Linton for their visit to the farm.
"The honor is ours," Linton said. "This is gonna be, I don't know if Jerry knows how much fun he's gonna have, but this is gonna be maybe the most fun day I've had since I've been at Kansas State. This is like comfort for me. So we're ready to rock and roll."
And with that, the group headed out to harvest some wheat.