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Many Kansas harvesters not going to Oklahoma, Texas

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP)--Drought and a freeze have hurt the wheat crop in Oklahoma and Texas, cutting down on work for custom harvesters from Kansas who make a living off following the trail of ripening wheat.

In Texas, drought already had damaged wheat fields before farmers received another setback--the late-season freeze. The state's producers will harvest only a third of its wheat fields, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Officials estimate Oklahoma's crop will be cut in half.

Pam Shmidl, operations manager of Hutchinson-based U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc., an association of professional harvesters, said the crop damage has meant less work for people who travel around the states cutting wheat.

"A lot of the harvesters, their first stops are gone. There is just nothing there," Shmidl said. "I talked to one of the guys who is cutting down there. He said you might be cutting along and have 60-bushel-an-acre wheat, then it might be 5 or 10."

"If it averages 25 or 30--that would be an overall awesome crop down there," she added.

In Oklahoma, 63 percent of the crop was rated as poor or very poor in mid-May. Texas' report released May 19 showed the state's crop as 73 percent poor or very poor.

Larry Schroeder's convoy of custom harvesting equipment would be making it way down to Texas about now. The Inman man said it's the first time since he took up the profession 20 years ago that he won't make it to Texas or Oklahoma.

"Yes, it will hit (my bottom line)," Schroeder said. "You need all the stops, from the beginning to the end, for this to work."

He said his normal first customer, on farmland near Waco, Texas, lost most of his crop and plans to cut the remaining wheat with his own equipment.

The crop is rated better in Kansas, the nation's largest wheat-producing state. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimated bushels to be down just 4 percent from a year ago. Kansas was spared much of the freeze damage because the wheat wasn't far enough along.



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