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Kansas celebrates 150 years of wheat

Kansas celebrates 150 years of wheat

By Scout Nelson

This year, Kansas farmers are preparing for a special event—the 150th harvest of hard red winter wheat. This historic milestone traces back to the introduction of Turkey Red wheat by Mennonite farmers in 1874, a move that transformed Kansas into a major agricultural powerhouse.

Aaron Harries, Vice President of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat, highlighted the significance of the year 1874 for the wheat industry in Kansas. He recounted how Mennonite farmers from Ukraine brought Turkey Red wheat to Kansas, fostering a robust agricultural economy.

Kansas, established in 1861, experienced rapid agricultural growth following the Homestead Act of 1862. Bernard Warkentin, a Mennonite miller from Crimea, settled near Halstead in 1871 and brought Turkey Red wheat seeds. This variety, known for its resilience and adaptability to Kansas' climate, was first planted in Marion County in 1874.

The arrival of 12,000 German Mennonites in 1874 further accelerated the adoption of advanced farming techniques and the widespread planting of Turkey Red wheat. These innovations included crop rotation, use of fertilizers, and efficient threshing methods.

The milling industry initially transitioned from processing soft wheat to hard red winter wheat, ideal for baking bread. Turkey Red wheat, with its high protein and gluten content, became the dominant crop, covering over 82% of Kansas' wheat fields by 1919.

Today, Kansas is known as the breadbasket of the world, with half of its current wheat varieties tracing their roots back to Turkey Red. Ongoing research aims to further enhance these varieties by studying Turkey Red's genetic properties and improving traits such as disease resistance and yield.

As Kansas farmers gear up to harvest their 150th crop of this historic wheat, the impact of Turkey Red continues, contributing to global food supplies and sustaining the legacy of those early Mennonite farmers. This summer's harvest is not just about reaping wheat, but also celebrating the influence of a variety that helped shape agricultural history.

Photo Credit -istock-zhaojiankang

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Categories: Kansas, Crops, Wheat

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