Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kansas - A whole new scale of agriculture

South central Kansas finally received some rain over the last week or so. Two inches in some places and as much as seven in others. Rains like these are unheard of for this time of year. We’re rapidly approaching the end of August, and everything I’ve seen since Missouri has increasingly looked like desert. The beautiful Flint hills were little more than brown rocky rolling prairie when I went through.

The fields had started to dry out a bit and Ross needed to spend the day with a field cultivator ploughing up fields. The lingo of the farm is a slow language to learn. Most of the equipment, practices, routines, even some of the crops themselves have names I’d never heard before: field cultivators, combines, milo, silage, center pivot irrigation, no till, CRP, the list goes on.

I was visiting Ross and Judy Kinsler, conventional farmers on about 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, milo, wheat and about 250 head of cattle, with one quarter (160 acres) irrigated with center pivot. It has taken a little while to get this far but I have finally arrived at the epicenter of our nation’s food system.

I dare say, most people have heard the expression “the Breadbasket of the World,” but have no idea what it means, or where it lies. Well, for those of us who really need a lot of help with these kinds of connections, bread is made from wheat, and wheat is grown on farms in places where we can achieve the highest yield, that is the highest amount of grain per acre of land planted. Kansas and indeed most of the Midwest is ideally suited for wheat because of its climatic and soil conditions. Kansas became famous in the history of wheat when Mennonite Russian immigrants brought with them a hearty winter variety, able to be planted in the fall or winter, sprouts before freezing, then goes dormant until spring.

As Kansas receives very little rainfall, and increasinly less as I travel west, I am entering into an area dominated by dryland farming. Wheat is a traditional dryland crop, and corn, soybeans, and milo (which is a kind of sorghum, grown as a feed grain for cattle) can also be grown if soil moisture is retained. To my great suprise, the primary technique for preserving soil moisture is to keep wheat fields tilled clean from the end of the harvest (around July), until planting, usually around October. The tillage kills the weeds by turning the soil upside down, because it is the weeds that pull out the moisture as well as the fertility.

So many, many fields are bare dirt, and after these heavy rains, the farmers are going to be busy on their field cultivators, knocking back the weeds.

A nice and short one today, just to wet your appetite. No pictures. In keeping with the now certain theme of my trip, "Everything Breaks" my digital camera is in the mail to Canon for repair. A genuine tragedy as Kansas has been one of the most picturesque states. I have gained an expansive ability to "roll with the punches."

This entry was posted on 8/20/2006 3:50 PM

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