They come from both coasts. They come with accents and drawls. They have new muck boots with the tags still on them, and some have well-worn ones.
For many, though, their common thread is, this is their first chance to walk in a wheat field. And you can see their uncertainty and their enthusiasm to participate in the Wheat Quality Council’s annual Winter Wheat Tour.
For more than 60 years, the wheat tour has marked the month of May in Kansas. Now, many people focus on crop scouting reports and the predicted yield number at the end. There are detractors all over the socials berating and belittling newbies for their inexperience and their mistakes.
That doesn’t make much sense to me. But then again, I don’t have some people’s humor, I guess.
You see, these are very often new professionals in the industry. They come from business schools to work in grain merchandising, or in procurement for the milling industry. Some come from a baking background and are curious about the source of their main ingredient. To a person, though, they all have a career that connects the farmer to the end user.
They may be young, they may be inexperienced, but they’re the exact people we need to welcome out here and show them the way. I guess I don’t see why anyone would belittle someone taking the time and spending the money to learn about farming.
The wheat tour is often these young professionals’ first time meeting a farmer. It may be their first time seeing a field of growing wheat. It may be their first real road trip through rural communities. We all take these things for granted, don’t we?
Value of wheat tour
There’s got to be value in it for major companies to continue sending staff to go on the tour — otherwise it wouldn’t have continued over six decades. Tour organizers say they hear from companies that their young staffers come back with a new understanding and appreciation of the wheat chain. They can better understand how weather conditions play into the yield and quality of the crop. They better comprehend what disease and pests can do to a crop at critical stages. You can’t really put a dollar value on the education they get from our state’s top Extension personnel and farmers on the ground.
Maybe even more important: They make valuable connections in the industry. You try traveling across the state for three days in a van with three strangers and not make a friend or two.
Is the scouting top-notch and absolutely accurate? I’d give it a solid B grade. But that’s why experts are sprinkled throughout the cars on the tour to guide them. It’s also why the tour has decided to go a few weeks later into May — to wait until the wheat is headed out and easier to scout, and after USDA has already released its yield estimates.
So, after the final estimates are tallied, when these young professionals leave Kansas with their yardsticks sticking out of their carry-on bags and sporting new sunburns, they also have a new respect for the industry they’ve chosen as their career.
You can’t put a number to that.