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Kansas winter wheat harvest getting slow start

Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The winter wheat harvest is off to a slow, tentative start in south-central Kansas.

Steve Inslee, general manager at the OK Co-op in Kiowa, said Thursday that local farmers have cut a few acres and the grain elevator has taken a couple of loads of wheat.

"It sort of began," Inslee said. "The Kansas harvest has started."

He doesn't look for the area's harvest to begin in earnest until Sunday or Monday.

Within a 25-mile radius of Kiowa, the wheat crop does not look very good because of the drought, and Inslee anticipates his grain elevator will take in just 1 million bushels this season. That would be one-third of what it received last year.

"I hope it fools me and it does a lot better than that," he said. "We will wait and see what happens."

But a cool, wet spring has helped the wheat recover elsewhere in Kansas.

On Wednesday, The National Agricultural Statistics Service revised its harvest forecast for Kansas to 307.8 million bushels, up 3 percent from the estimate just a month ago. But even with that improvement, the anticipated 2013 wheat crop in the state falls far short of last year's production. The Kansas harvest expected to be down 21 percent from a year ago.

But the production estimates fluctuates widely across the state, depending on where timely moisture fell. Both southwest and west-central Kansas are not expected to bring in any more than 53 percent of the previous year's crop with production estimates of 27 million bushels and 22.5 million bushels, respectively. The crop in northwest Kansas is forecast to be 60 percent of what came in a year ago.

South-central Kansas, which encompasses the state's biggest wheat growing region, is forecast to bring in 78.5 million bushels of wheat, or about 84 percent of last year's crop. In southeast Kansas the forecast of 24.5 million bushels is just one percentage point shy of last year's harvest.

At the same time, the central and east-central parts of Kansas are anticipated to harvest slightly bigger crops this harvest than last year, according to the according to the agency's latest estimate. In northwest Kansas, this year's wheat crop is forecast to be 72 percent bigger at 8.1 million bushels.

The industry's trade group, Kansas Wheat, said Thursday it knows of no other wheat harvest activity yet in the state other than those few fields being cut in Kiowa. Its spokesman, Bill Spiegel, said the Kansas harvest was about 70 percent complete by this time last year.

The cool, wet spring in much of Kansas has delayed the crop, but the past couple of days of hot weather has helped dry out the crop for harvest.

"We are all wanting to get going, but Mother Nature is not cooperating yet," Spiegel said.