This week I had the opportunity to meet some great people and see a lot of Kansas I hadn't seen before while taking part in my first Wheat Quality Tour. The tour split up into groups and drove across the state starting in Manhattan, before meeting up in Colby, Wichita and Kansas City on the final day of the tour. The goal is to evaluate the year's hard winter wheat crop and estimate yields across the state, while seeing and learning a lot about Kansas.
While gaining a much better understanding of the state's hard red winter wheat crop – which varied greatly from east to west – I also got to visit small towns I never would have been to otherwise. The further west you go, the fewer people there are and the further apart the towns are. In some places, the nearest town might be 30 miles away.
This doesn't mean there isn't anything to see. Many towns have museums, like the Santa Fe Trail Museum in Larned, the Motorcycle Museum in Marquette, or the underground tunnels of Ellinwood. Natural formations like the tallgrass prairie and the chalk deposits near the Smoky Hill River were also of interest.
Something more unfortunate stood out to me most – the dry conditions the western tiers have dealt with. As of April 30, University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Drought Monitor listed 19.57% of the state under "exceptional," the highest drought conditions category. This is all within western Kansas.
Wheat fields in the region had spotty stands, but I also noticed the low surface water and pasture supplies. Pastures looked drier than those I had seen this summer in Iowa and northern Missouri. However, western Kansas has been hit with drought for over two years. Despite the wheat tour being hammered with cold, wind, rain, sleet and snow, Kansas's western counties definitely need rain soon.