Amy Bickel

Amy Bickel's roots began in Gypsum, Kansas.  She graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in agricultural communications.  She's been covering Kansas agriculture for over 15 years.  Recently, she's been chronicling Kansas' dead towns.  She has a passion for telling stories centered on Kansas agriculture, rural life, and history.  

marshall.house.gov

It’s no surprise to Congressman Roger Marshall the concerns his constituents have during his trips back to Kansas center on the elevators full of grain that dot the Big First district.

“Trade and the farm bill, that is all I’ve heard about now when I do my town halls,” Marshall told Kansas Agland Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday, he met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s chief of staff, Jamieson Greer, to talk about some of the trade issues, including the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Lindsey Bauman / Hutch News

The June moon, known as the Strawberry moon, will appear Friday. And Bergkamp figures, barring rain, he could be out in the field as soon as Thursday.

“These 90-degree days and sunshine really turned the wheat,” the Pretty Prairie-area farmer said as he worked on his combine header Tuesday afternoon.

The annual rite of June is gearing up in Kansas. It’s a time of year marked by long, hot days of combines rolling through ripen wheat. Trucks kick up dust as they travel the dirt roads to the elevator.

Andrew Whitaker / The Hutchinson News

Vic Thomas’ family has always wrestled with the wind.

Born in 1934, Thomas knows the stories of the Dust Bowl days that blew across the family farm near Montezuma. He recalled how his mother would put up wet towels along the windows to help keep the dirt from coming through the cracks.

Even in the 1950s, when Thomas was farming full-time, he battled the wind and drought, which, thanks to better farming practices, wasn’t as bad as his father's Depression-era farming.

In his 82 years of life on the Kansas High Plains, Thomas still lives with the wind. 

Sandra J. Milburn / The Hutchinson News

There’s an old saying that wheat has nine lives.

But in western Kansas, farmers have pretty much used all of them.

Yet, despite just about every plague imaginable that could strike this year’s stand – including snow, freeze and disease – farmers aren’t writing off the 2017 wheat just yet.

“I’ve been told my entire life – never give up on the western Kansas wheat crop,” said Trevor Witt, agronomist and sales manager at the Garden City Co-op who has been scouting wheat fields after the late April snowstorm.

Kansas Agland /

  A bill that would enable farmers to eventually obtain a license to plant industrial hemp has moved to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The move is one hemp supporters wanted to help get the bill passed this session. The bill was referred to the committee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, hemp supporters are planning a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. June 5 at the public library in Coffeyville, said Kelly Rippel, who is with Kansans for Hemp.

Travis Morrise / The Hutchinson News

It’s a rainy Tuesday in April, bringing local farmers to the Crazy Mule for a noon meal – which is located in a seven-year-old downtown that is nearly 80 percent full. Down the street is the two-year-old movie theater, which claims to have the biggest screen between Wichita and Denver.

Dixson, who was heading out of town for a funeral, said his wife, Ann, was filling in at the school where the grandkids attend. The countywide school, with its state-of-the-art technology and plenty of windows that bring in natural light, is only seven years old, as well.

Justin Gilpin / Kansas Wheat

But the electricity is out at his Stanton County farm, where at least 14 inches of snow blankets his wheat fields.

Amid a slumping farm economy, it might seem like a disaster with harvest just weeks away. But Sipes has seen wheat weather many calamities.

“I never count wheat out,” he said.

It will be a week to 10 days before western Kansas farmers know the outcome of the weekend snowstorm, which closed highways and canceled schools.

Dwane Roth knows the worth of water. 

Peering 20 years into the future, the Finney County farmer can see the outcome clearly if nothing changes.

“The Discovery Channel will be out here doing a documentary on us,” he said, adding the synopsis would be “ ‘What the hell were you guys thinking?’ “

With his water levels declining, Roth wants to make sure there is water for the next generation, including his nephews who all recently returned to the farm.

“We are going to have to do something if we want to continue irrigating,” Roth said.

Sandra J. Milburn / The Hutchinson News

ASHLAND - Over the phone, Jenny Giles Betschart gives directions to her makeshift home amid the incinerated plains - describing the residence as the one you shouldn't miss.

"It's the white house with the clutter," she said.

It's the only house left on this section of road. The home, with its paint now peeling from the intense heat of a wildfire, lies at the end of a long sandy drive, damp from several days of downpours. Scaffolding is stacked on a trailer - not far from the new picnic tables made by the FFA - waiting to be used to put new siding on the house.

Sandra J. Milburn / Kansas Agland

From Kansas Agland:

One attribute that Colby Harner inherited from his father and grandfather is hard work.

The 25-year-old takes pride in this. It’s why he followed in their footsteps and became a farmer. He enjoys the work of raising crops and cattle, then reaping the harvest of his labor. 

But right now, eking out a living on the farm is even harder - especially for the young operator.

Lindsey Bauman / Kansas Agland

From Kansas Agland:

Some students in Ashland are spending their spring break tearing out burned-up fences as their family and friends deal with the aftermath of the state’s largest wildfire.

It’s not known yet just how many miles of fence line will need to be replaced, but on the Gardiner Ranch, it could be at least 300.

That’s about the distance from Hutchinson to Topeka and back again.

Courtesy / Seward County

Much-needed rain, along with a community effort by farmers and area fire departments helped control another Kansas wildfire that broke out in Seward County on Thursday.

The 2,500-acre fire is now contained, according to a post by Seward County Fire Chief Andrew Barkley. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Seward County Fire Rescue responded to a grass fire at about 5 p.m. in the area of Road P and Highway 54.

Lindsey Bauman

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that more than $6 million in funding is now available for those affected by the wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The funding, delivered through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, will assist farmers and ranchers as they attempt to restore grazing lands, rehabilitate devastated landscapes, rebuild fencing and protect damaged watersheds, according to a news release.

Lindsey Bauman / The Hutchinson News

The last thing Greg Gardiner saw before everything went black was his brother Mark heading to the horse barn.

Fire and smoke was spreading through Clark County from the southwest Monday afternoon. By 3 p.m., the ranch was in the war zone. An orange firewall was heading toward his brother’s home as Greg pulled up with a truck and trailer to help save three horses.

“I knew it was too late,” Greg said.

Lindsey Bauman / The Hutchinson News

You can hear the emotion in Ashland Mayor Kendal Kay's voice as he tells about the worn-out rancher who showed up Tuesday - his home destroyed and almost all his cattle dead. 

But he wanted to know, as wildfires still burned across Clark County, where he could help.

"They lose their home, their ranch burns, and they will still try to figure out a way to help others," said Kay, who also is president of the Stockgrowers State Bank in Ashland. 

That is what living in a close-knit community in rural America is all about, he said.

Lindsey Bauman

Help is coming and is here – where the prairie is singed to the earth – and at all hours.

Jeff Kay was up at 2 a.m. Monday to help unload a couple of trucks carrying hay for ranchers affected by the Clark County wildfires.

“It’s unbelievable the way the farming and ranching community has come together,” said Kay, who operates Ashland Feed and Seed. “There are donations coming from all over the world.”

Courtesy El Quartelejo Museum

There is no Trump in Kansas, but Scott County has Pence.

Not that there is evidence of political aspirations in this little town. It sits just off Cherokee Road, surrounded by treeless farmland, where it has been floundering for more than a century.

It’s unlikely that its founder, J.W. Pence, has any blood connection to Vice President Mike Pence – or that the 85 percent of Scott County voters who supported the Trump/Pence ticket did so because there was a town of Pence in their county.

Amy Bickel

With their water wells dropping, two farmers from the far southwest corner of Kansas flew a 1967 Cessna Wednesday morning to Topeka – all in support of hemp.

Farmers Darren Buck and Reid Shrauner didn’t have quite the journey as some of their fellow Morton County residents, who left before sunlight to support a bill that they think could boost their county’s struggling economy and extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Kansas Geological Survey

Thanks to timely rains last year, Mount Hope-area farmer Jeff Winter figures on some of his fields he pumped half the amount of water that he normally uses to irrigate his crops.

So did many central Kansas farmers. And it showed. 

While the Ogallala Aquifer continues to decline, the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifers saw rises as irrigators shut down their wells more often in 2016.

"We didn't have to pump as much, and we shut off more frequently," said Winter, who also is on the Equus Beds board. He added that on a few fields, he pumped even less.

Jason Hartman / Kansas Forest Service

It cost Barber County about $1.5 million to fight the Anderson Creek Fire.

That figure represents suppression costs, such as fuel, repairs, food, ice and water, said Jerry McNamar, the county’s emergency management director. About $400,000 of the cost was for four National Guard helicopters, which dropped water on the fire over two days.

“That’s the total cost of putting the fire out,” he said.

Wages are a very small part of the total. Moreover, Barber County’s fire crews are all volunteer. Each volunteer firefighter in Barber County gets $15 a run.

Amy Bickel / The Hutchinson News

TOPEKA – Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Kansas Department of Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey are urging government officials to consider that Kansas landowners have implemented efforts to protect the lesser prairie chicken and that a threatened or endangered listing is not warranted.

Travis Morrise / The Hutchinson News

With Kansas' Ogallala Aquifer continuing to decline, a Haskell County farm family tested the age-old water law adage "First in time, first in right," and won.

Haskell County District Court Judge Linda Gilmore ruled Wednesday in favor of the Garetsons and their more-than-80-year-old vested senior water right in the county, granting a permanent injunction against American Warrior - shutting off the company's two junior water wells that are impairing the Garetsons' right.

Amy Bickel / The Hutchinson News

Lane County farmer Vance Ehmke calls himself one of those guys who sees a dark cloud in front of every silver lining.

Ehmke, who sells certified seed, harvested the best wheat crop of his lifetime in June. But as a glut of grain piled high at many Kansas elevators, commodity prices collapsed, sending producers into a farm crisis not seen since the 1980s.

Amy Bickel / The Hutchinson News

MEADE – Off a dirt road on an abandoned farmstead in Meade County, Rex Buchanan searched for a metal pipe hidden in tall weeds.

Back a few decades ago, the search would have taken much longer – almost like finding a needle in a haystack. But GPS pinpointed the location and sure enough – in the middle of the thickest clump – a tube is sticking out of the earth.

Jolie Green / Kansas Agland

From Kansas Agland:

For the first time nearly 15 years, the price of wheat is so low that government loan programs have once again kicked in.

Josh Harbour / Garden City Telegram

From Kansas Agland:

For some in western Kansas, such yields are unheard of.

But some farmers, including those planting wheat on summer fallow ground, are seeing yields reaching 100 bushels an acre.

“All the berries filled,” said Jerald Kemmerer, general manager of Dodge City-based Pride Ag Resources.

Amy Bickel / Hutchinson News

From Kansas Agland:

CASTLETON – For Sam Grilliot, it’s harvest time, and that means the old Oliver is lumbering through the wheat field.

More often, you find similar antique combines abandoned in a hedgerow. But for Grilliot, the 50-year-old machine is one of the tools he depends on each year.

Travis Morrisse / Hutchinson News

From Kansas Agland:

Kansas net farm income in 2015 hit a 30-year low, reaching a level not seen since the 1980s farm crisis.

Accrual net farm income across 1,159 Kansas Farm Management Association farms averaged $4,568, drastically down from a five-year average of $120,000.

Sandra J. Milburn / Hutchinson News

From Kansas Agland:

ST. JOHN – For about two months of the year, Stafford County farmer Jordan Hickel would run his pricey combine through wheat fields in June, followed by fall commodities like corn and soybeans.

Then the machine would sit silent in the shed, awaiting the next harvest season.

Building fence facts

Apr 20, 2016
Deb Farris / KAKE

From Kansas Agland:

Last week, livestock markets in Pratt and Reno counties helped raise $120,000 by auctioning off a donated heifer and two steer calves in an effort to raise funds to aid ranchers with wildfire losses in Reno, Harvey, Barber and Comanche counties.

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