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Published August 26, 2013, 09:17 AM

Harvest begins

Another wheat harvest had begun, and the extended Jirik family was taking advantage of a hot, dry August afternoon tailor-made for combining.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

WEST CENTRAL MINN.— Another wheat harvest had begun, and the extended Jirik family was taking advantage of a hot, dry August afternoon tailor-made for combining.

Mike Jirik ran the combine. His son, Cole, controlled the grain cart. Larry Revier, Mike’s father-in-law, drove the semi truck. Albert Jirik, Mike’s father, and Sharon Jirik, Mike’s sister, looked on and gave moral support from the field’s edge.

A mid-August swing by Agweek through west-central Minnesota came across a handful of combines, one of them Mike Jirek’s, roaring through wheat fields. Agriculturalists in the area expected harvest to launch into full gear late in the week of Aug. 19.

This year’s harvest is starting two or three weeks later than usual, the result of a wet spring that delayed planting. But early harvest results, including yields on Mike Jirik’s wheat field near Waubun, Minn., were encouraging.

Wheat, once the leading crop in the area, largely has given way to corn and soybeans. As Larry Revier put it, “It’s hard to find a wheat field.”

A few wheat fields, most dead ripe or nearly so, were seen on the Agweek trip. Temperatures that cloudless day reached into the high 80s, accelerating the development of less-advanced wheat plants.

Corn and soybeans were a far more common sight than wheat. Most of the corn and soybeans were still a lush green, but some of the row crops clearly needed moisture.

Some parts of west-central Minnesota have gone about a month without a good rain; the area received an inch to 2 inches less than normal from mid-July through mid-August, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Heavy spring rains in parts of the area left subsoil moisture on which crops can draw now.

Crops on fields with little or no subsoil moisture are deteriorating.

Here’s a closer look at what Agweek found:

Harvest is family affair

WAUBUN, Minn. — Sharon Jirik has watched her brother’s wheat field south of Waubun since it was planted.

“It always looked so lush,” she says. “It’s just nice to have a field like this,”

Jirik, who lives in nearby Mahnomen, Minn., came to watch the field being harvested. She brought along her father, who lives in Ada, Minn.

The field belongs to Revier. Mike Jirik, a Ulen, Minn., resident, rents it from his father-in-law.

Revier says the field could yield as much as 70 bushels per acre, which would be above average.

Cole Jirik, 15, who soon will begin a new school year, says the field has gone weeks without rain.

“But that didn’t hurt this (field). It’s still OK,” he says.

A couple of inches away’

CALLAWAY, Minn. — Two corncobs sat on the office counter of the CHS grain elevator in Callaway, Minn. An elevator patron brought in the cobs earlier to show employees how his corn was progressing.

Jason Starkey, station manager of the elevator, points to the cobs and says, “These are good-looking cobs. But we’ll need more rain. We’re a couple of inches away from a good corn and bean crop.”

Almost no wheat had been combined in his area when Agweek visited.

“I can’t tell you anything yet,” he says. “But we’re close to getting going.”

He anticipated that a number of farmers would begin harvesting wheat in earnest Aug. 22 to 24.

Second-guessing on wheat

MAHNOMEN, Minn. — There’s a saying in Upper Midwest agriculture: The weather that’s good for row crops isn’t good for small grains, and vice versa.

Last year in the Mahnomen area, however, “We came about close as you can” to having weather well-suited for both, says Harry Aanden, general manager of the CHS elevator in Mahnomen.

This year, cool mid-summer temperatures that worked against row crops boosted wheat, a cool-season grass. Early signs indicate that wheat came through the growing season in good shape.

“Our spring wheat harvest is just getting going,” Aanden says. So far, yields have been good, “with nice quality.”

Protein levels in the harvested wheat are lower than ideal, but the discounts for low-protein wheat “aren’t too bad, yet,” he says.

Given the promising start to wheat harvest, “Some guys are saying, ‘I should have had more wheat,’” Aanden says.

Wheat was planted on about 20 percent of cropland in the Mahnomen area this spring, with corn accounting for 60 to 65 percent and soybeans for most of the rest, he estimates.

Most corn fields in the Mahnomen area still have considerable promise, he says.

“But we need rain.”

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