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Serving: KS
Wheat being harvested in field. P.J. Griekspoor
COMBINES ROLLING: The beginning of wheat harvest brings an extra joy this year because it is so normal and so routine and so the same as always, even in the age of coronavirus.

Wheat harvest brings welcome feeling of normal

Harvest is one thing that coronavirus can’t lock down and it feels good.

It’s wheat harvest. It’s looking to be a fast, furious and hot one, with wheat ripening quickly from one end of the state to the other. All I can say is that it’s about time for a positive experience. I’ve had just about all the sad, scary news I can stand.

On Monday, a friend posted a photo on Facebook with the notation: “It’s not really harvest until you give a kid you’ve never met before a ride on the combine.” The photo showed a little boy riveted at the sight of the header picking up wheat.

Kansas farmers are the luckiest of “essential workers,” because most of their work is done outside in wide-open spaces or enclosed cabs occupied by only one person and working from home is the normal state of affairs.

It certainly makes for a safer workplace than a crowded factory floor or packing plant. It also has the advantage of feeling normal, which is a lot less wearing on the psyche.

The worry about the economic damage this pandemic has already wrought — and the continuing damage that is likely to continue for another several months — is less easy to escape. Even as we enjoy the thrill and promise of harvest, the lingering concern about markets is impossible to escape. Commodity prices are down. The costs of consumer goods and food are up. Supply chains are disrupted.

I went to the pharmacy to pick up my allergy medication and learned that only the name brand was available, and the boxes are half the size of what I usually buy in generic form. The generic medication is manufactured in Belgium and the pharmacist said there are shortages, not because of problems with trade regulation, but because manufacturing space has been cut back to increase the capacity for researching and making potential drugs to combat COVID-19.

Even though packing plants are back to 95% capacity, we’re not seeing prices on meat drop anywhere close to as fast as they went up when the virus first hit. Flat iron steaks, for example, are in short supply and consistently priced at $12.99 a pound. Pre-COVID-19, they were often on “buy one get one free” sale and priced at $10.99. Today’s price for fat cattle, meanwhile, was $1.35 a pound the last time I checked. That is a startlingly wide gap. It’s enough to make Congress investigate.

Meanwhile, the unfairness to ethanol continues, the Phase 1 China trade agreement is muddling along and we really, really need rain.  

In Sedgwick County where I live, there is a bigger concern that we are not following the guidelines for safe reopening and are seeing a spike in the number of cases, the percentage of positive tests and the number of hospitalizations.

But today, I’m heading out to do a wheat harvest story. I probably won’t do a combine ride-along, but I feel safe maintaining distance to talk to folks in the open field. And doggone it, I want to do something that feels normal and right where I can (sort of) forget that coronavirus is real and still out there.

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