Wheat harvest slow to start, but crops looking good

The Hoffman crew works to cut as much wheat as they can before they get rained out, even as the clouds start to gather overhead.

Wheat harvest is officially underway in southern Kansas. It has been a rough start to the harvest season, but Hoffman Harvesting was finally able to begin cutting wheat on June 20.

“We’ve been working on canola, picking it up, doing a straight-cut,” said Jada Bulgin of Hoffman Harvesting during a recent phone interview. “We just cut our first couple of wheat fields and the yields are looking really good, but the ground is iffy.”

Like so many other farmers this year, excess moisture has been a problem. Even down south, where things tend to be drier, the rains keep coming and harvest runs have to happen between rains when they can get in.

Luckily, nothing has gotten stuck, so far.

“You can definitely tell you’re going over muddy ground. “A lot of times we’ve pulled the trucks into the field and dumped right there, but we can’t do that right now,” said Jada. “Instead, we have to dump on the road. The grain carts are running a little more than normal.”

They also are not working full days yet. Due to the rain and moisture, the combines can’t get into the fields until late morning or even after supper on some days.

“Then, as soon as the sun goes down, we’ve got to shut down because it’s too wet,” she said.

While everyone would prefer to get to go hard and get the job done, there are some benefits to having a slow start to the harvest season. Since they are not running full throttle, they have a chance to really train the new crew members well and develop the team under less pressure.

“About half of the crew has returned from previous years and half are new,” she said. “This time of year is when you’re trying to get everyone in the swing of things again and train the new guys and all become a team.”

At the start of the season, the crew will get trained on all the different jobs. Each worker will have a chance to run the combine, drive the grain carts and haul grain in the semis. Eventually, the crew members all find a job they like best and stick to it, but they are able to perform any job.

“Right now, it’s kind of good that we’ve had some slower days to get everyone used to what they’re doing, knowing what they’re doing and getting organized again,” she said. “Even if you’ve done it before, you haven’t ran a machine in a while, so it just takes a while to get back into it again.”

The Hoffman’s crew ranges in age from 20-30 years old, with the exception of Perry Hoffman, Jada’s father and founder of Hoffman Harvesting, who came out of retirement – or semi-retirement – to help oversee the company this year.

This is the first year since 2009 that Perry has been on the harvest. Candice, his wife, also came along for the first time since 2009. She is helping Jada cook and prepare meals for the crew.

“They’re trying to get going harvesting here and it’s a little bit of a challenge, but it’s a very good crop,” said Perry Hoffman.

Wheat yields are running right around 80 bushels so far. Historically, Perry puts yields around 50-60 bushels, so it is a good start for the wheat crop.

“There is some protein, which is pretty interesting,” he said. “High yield usually signals low protein.”

The moisture has helped the crop and the first farmer the Hoffmans cut for typically does a good job on his ground.

“The guy we cut for is a really, really good farmer. He goes the extra mile with fertilizer, fungicide and so on,” he said.