Agland: KSAgJournalist From The Field / Uncategorized

From the Field: 25 billion bushels of wheat and 100 years of the state fair

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Wheat harvest in Kiowa, Kansas.

The 25th billionth bushel of wheat in a century of Kansas wheat production was harvested earlier this month on a farm in northwest Kansas.

The act occurred on the Mike Brown farm near Colby. Brown caught the grain in a bushel basket as his son Tanner unloaded the combine into a grain cart.

Kansas Wheat reported the 25th billionth bushel act last week, which also commemorates 100 years of the Kansas State Fair. According to the association, 25 billion bushels equals more than 1 trillion commercial loaves of bread.

That’s an amazing feat, but not surprising considering Kansas’ rich history as the nation’s breadbasket, producing nearly one-fifth of all the wheat grown in the United States.

But it all started back in 1874, when the first wave of Russian Mennonites, roughly 1,900 people, settled in an area that consisted fo 60,000 acres of land in Marion, McPherson, Harvey and Reno counties, according to a June 1973 article in Mennonite Life. Some of the hard winter wheat that made Kansas the breadbasket of the nation reached that state in the baggage of these German-speaking immigrants from the steppes of southern Russia.

Even the new immigrants could see promise on the Kansas prairie.

“In three years,” one immigrant told the Commonwealth newspaper, “that ocean of grass will be transformed into an ocean of waving fields of grain, just as we left our Molotschnoi colony.”

The newspaper didn’t disagree.

“Kansas will be to America what the country of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is now to Europe – her wheat field,” the newspaper predicted.

Paving the way for these immigrants was Mennonoite Bernhard Warkentin, who came to the United States in 1872. He traveled from Canada to Texas looking for a place where Russian Mennonites could settle and plant their Turkey red wheat.

He wrote back that Kansas was the best. He built a gristmill at Halstead.

Nearly 140 years have passed since the Mennonites first came to Kansas, supposedly with jars of hard red winter wheat in their luggage. Kansas already had some acres in wheat, about 70,000 to be exact, but much of it was the soft white wheat that didn’t yield well.

These days on the Kansas plains, wheat is thriving thanks to improved varieties, better technology, as well as the determination by Kansas farmers. Farmers plant nearly 9 million acres to wheat, harvesting 328 million bushels or more this year, a fact that these early settlers couldn’t have ever envisioned even before the land was tilled.

Brown is a first generation farmer who is on the Kansas Wheat Commission, getting his start as a farm hand for a couple who would become his in-laws, according to Kansas Wheat. He and his wife, Jeanene, now farm that same land, their son Tanner the sixth generation, his family farming in Thomas County for more than 100 years.

While 25 billion bushels of wheat harvested is a mighty accomplishment, just like any farmer, Brown looks to the future of wheat production. He told Kansas Wheat officials that he believes that the future will bring many new opportunities for farmers and, just as it had in the past, it will also bring obstacles.

Meanwhile, that 25th billionth bushel of wheat will be on display at the Kansas Wheat booth in the Pride of Kansas Building at the Kansas State Fair, which turns 100 years old this September.

The Hutchinson fair is Sept. 6-15.

To read more about Kansas agriculture news, visit www.kansasagland.com

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