Jun 11, 2024

Insight: Chasing wheat

Posted Jun 11, 2024 9:00 AM

Kim Baldwin, McPherson County farmer and rancher

Wheat harvest is just around the corner for many in Kansas. The transformation of fields from vivid green to a beautiful gold have occurred and now we wait for the wheat to ripen.

Conversations at the local gas station, cafe and public library are now regularly including predictions of when the wheat will be ready.

We’ve been preparing for the wheat harvest like we do every year. We’ve also been anxiously watching the late-spring storms roll across the Kansas plains, celebrating the timely moisture we’ve received and praying damaging hail and winds stay away.

While wheat harvest only happens during a few weeks every June for my family, the preparations and movements for this time of the year are like a familiar dance. The steps in preparing and the rhythm of the day-to-day activities leading up to and during wheat harvest flow together the way only time and experience can create. It is cultural, and it is a shared multi-generational affair.

My small community of Inman has a rich history centered around wheat harvest. A sign welcoming visitors identifies Inman as the “Custom Harvesting Capital of America.”

Many local families who can trace their roots back to eastern Europe – the area where the wheat many of us raise originated from – have had custom harvesting operations for generations. You can see that wheat harvest heritage highlighted in our town’s museum displays, during our community’s annual car and tractor show, and even on our Main Street in the spring when the new hires from around the world report for work.

Just like the rich German Mennonite influence in our community, wheat harvest truly is a major part of the town’s present identity as well as its history.

My mother-in-law tells stories of her classmates wrapping up their school years early to join local custom harvesting families and chasing the wheat from Texas all the way to the Canadian border.

A family friend tells the story of how you always knew which classmates chased wheat all summer just by looking at the new vehicles parked in the student parking lot of the high school every fall.

There are still some young adults in our community who’ll join a custom harvesting crew based out of Inman, Kansas, and chase the wheat for the summer, but there's fewer and fewer of them nowadays. Still, my elementary-aged children know exactly why some of their friends aren’t at school for the end-of-year celebrations in May because they’ve joined their family for a summer of harvesting wheat.

For those who don’t go on the road for the summer and instead stay home and harvest their own wheat, this year’s harvest will be a little more special as we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first harvest of Turkey Red Winter Wheat in Kansas.

That wheat was brought to the area by Mennonite immigrants from eastern Europe and remains an ancestor to the varieties of wheat we harvest every year to this day. It’s the wheat that has allowed so many of our local families the ability to make a living and create a rich farming and custom harvesting heritage.

Which is why it makes perfect sense that our local Chamber of Commerce and museum will present a combined Independence Day and Harvest celebration this year to include a parade, concert, fireworks plus the harvesting of four acres of Turkey Red Winter Wheat.

It’s only fitting that our community celebrates the 150th anniversary of harvesting Turkey Red alongside Independence Day.

Afterall, it’s the crop that has allowed so many in our area to independently create a life for themselves and their families while also helping build our community.

"Insight" is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.

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