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High winds pound wheat fields at end of challenging season

As might have been expected, thunderstorms packing powerful winds and heavy rain overnight Wednesday did a number on wheat still standing in some Tribland fields, awaiting harvest at the end of an already challenging growing season.

Ron Seymour, a Nebraska Extension educator based in Adams County who watches over crops in Adams, Webster, Franklin and Kearney counties, said he had surveyed winter wheat fields between Blue Hill and Guide Rock on Thursday and found some fields already harvested, some in progress and some still waiting for the combine.

A number of fields had been affected by the rain and wind, he said, particularly closer to the Guide Rock area. He saw no evidence of hail damage.

Courtesy Ron Seymour  

Wheat in a field in the Guide Rock area is shown Thursday after being blown over under the force of wind and rain overnight Wednesday.

The overnight storms, which arrived in many Tribland locations around 11 p.m. to shortly after midnight, packed winds clocked from 50-75 mph. In the southern reaches of Tribland, rainfall totaled as much as 2 inches at Lebanon, Kansas, and 1.95 inches at Naponee.

Wheat harvest had reached the northern tier of Kansas counties, including Jewell and Smith in Tribland, by late last week and reportedly was in progress along the Nebraska-Kansas border.

In Tuesday’s installment of the Kansas Wheat Harvest Report, Adrian Polansky, who farms near Belleville in Republic County, said harvest in his area began June 30.

Courtesy Ron Seymour  

Wheat in a field in the Guide Rock area is shown Thursday after being blown over under the force of wind and rain overnight Wednesday.

He estimated that by Tuesday harvest was close to halfway complete in the southern half of Republic County and about 25% finished in the north half.

Polansky said high humidity and rain showers had posed a challenge to the harvest, which began about a week later than normal in his area due to weather factors. He said a hard freeze in the spring had delayed maturity and made for more variable results out in the fields.

Yields in Polansky’s fields were in the mid-40s in bushels per acre with not many tillers.

Also in Tuesday’s report, Chris Tanner, who farms near Norton, Kansas, said harvest on his farm began July 1 and was about 40% complete. He said harvest had begun about a week later than usual.

Protein levels were running 12.7% to 13.9%, with yields of 20-65 bpa that he described as average and about 40% below yields from the previous three years.

Courtesy Ron Seymour  

Wheat in a field in the Guide Rock area is shown Thursday after being blown over under the force of wind and rain overnight Wednesday.

Test weights were variable, Tanner told the Kansas Wheat Harvest Report, because the spring freeze killed most of the tillers and a hot, dry wind during grain fill had been another negative factor.

He was recording test weights of 54-65 pounds per bushel, depending on what stage of development the wheat had been in when the heat arrived.

He noted it had been a difficult year for growing winter wheat in the area.

“This year was one of the most difficult growing seasons with the dry fall,” he said. “Some wheat did not emerge till the spring.”

In a report issued Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Ag Statistics Service estimated Kansas farmers would raise 307 million bushels of wheat in 2020 — 9% fewer bushels than in 2019.

The forecast is based on a predicted average yield of 48 bpa, down from 52 bpa in 2019.

The report predicts wheat will be cut from 6.4 million acres across Kansas this year, down 2% from a year ago.

For the week that ended Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 47% of Nebraska’s winter wheat crop to be in good condition, compared to 32% fair, 14% poor and 4% very poor.

Tuesday’s edition of the Nebraska Wheat Crop Report said test weights in south central Nebraska were coming in at 60 ppb or a little higher, while yields were ranging from 30-70 bpa, with an average of 50 bpa.

Return to school

Having gone so long without being surrounded by students, the Hastings Public Schools teachers participating in summer school once again are in their element.

Those teachers, as well as summer school students, also get to practice new procedures that will become the standard during the continuing novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

HPS summer school began Monday at Lincoln Elementary with about 100 students going into first through fourth grade.

These are the first in-person classes for the district since school was shut down effective March 16. Elementary teachers provided packets for students during the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Summer school runs through July.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Becky Shoemaker works with Kaylee Rozmiarek in a summer school class Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary.

“We’re glad they’re here,” Superintendent Jeff Schneider said of the summer school students. “It’s a great chance for us to see how this is going to work, a little bit. More importantly than that, these kids need school. All kids need school, and they’ve been out of it since the middle of March. So it’s really good to see some students back in the building.”

Summer school coordinator April White said the opportunity to practice procedures teachers will be asked to put in place in the fall is big.

White, who had served as special education teacher at Hawthorne Elementary and will return to the classroom in the fall to teach third grade, said the planning process for summer school was “fast and furious.”

“It was kind of a game of being on pause and fast forward all at the same time, waiting to know if we had enough information and enough things in place to go forward,” she said.

Each class has about six or seven students, allowing those students to socially distance from one another.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Jami Paulman teaches during Hastings Public Schools summer school classes Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary.

Summer school staff members are wearing masks. Students aren’t required to wear masks, but making mask wearing mandatory for students “when possible” is the district’s recommendation for the 2020-21 school year.

Summer school was scaled back this year, limited to four grades and with an emphasis on literacy. Other subjects are taught, as well, however.

“Research has proven that students being proficient in literacy by the third grade is a huge, huge indicator of their future success down the road,” Schneider said. “So we wanted to do everything we could for kids this age. We really feel like literacy is one of the most important concepts we address.”

When she was working on rhyming words with students during classes Wednesday, first-grade teacher Krista Niederklein briefly pulled down her mask so students could watch her enunciate the differences between words.

“We’re telling (teachers), you can still do that, but be up front and be 6 feet away,” Schneider said.

He said there was a lot of work by a lot of people that made even having summer school a possibility. The district cleared the plan with the South Heartland District Health Department.

“We were not going to hold this unless we had their OK to do so,” he said. “Not only did we have their OK, they encouraged us. I think they too felt like it was a good thing for kids to be back in schools and that we needed to practice some of the safety measures.”

Instead of eating lunch together at the end of the three-hour school day, students receive sack lunches — which are the same meals the district provides for all children 18 years old and younger each weekday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hastings Middle School and Alcott Elementary, as well as at Lincoln.

Schneider said he’s not sure yet how meals will be handled in the fall. District officials will be meeting with Lunchtime Solutions.

“I know it’s not going to look like it did before,” he said. “For example, at every building we had a fresh fruit and vegetable bar that was kind of a buffet style. That’s not, probably, going to be the case. We’re going to have to do things differently.”

New Superior mayor plans focus on infrastructure

SUPERIOR — A veteran member of the Superior City Council has stepped up to the office of mayor following the resignation of Sonia Schmidt.

Chris Peterson has served on the City Council for eight years and served as council president for three years. He took the oath of office as mayor on May 11.

Peterson said he had talked with Schmidt in 2018 about the possibility of running for mayor, but that Schmidt had decided to run for another term of office and he didn’t want to run against her because the two share the same vision for the community’s future.

Now, he will fill out the remainder of Schmidt’s term of office, which runs through 2022.

As mayor, Peterson said, he intends to focus on the community’s infrastructure and is concerned with advanced meter infrastructure projects. He played an instrumental role in bringing to Superior the solar panel project that is located on Hartley Street south of town.

The city is looking at a new system for meter reading, which will be done electronically for the most part and eliminate the need for employees to visit each meter individually for utility billings.

Peterson is a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Superior. He has been employed by Brodstone Memorial Hospital for six years, working in the area of health information management.

Prior to that, he served for 8 ½ years in the U.S. Army and spent time stationed in Germany.

“I was born in Superior and have lived in many states and cities around the country, but now I have come home to stay,” he said.

He meets with City Attorney John Hodge the third Wednesday morning of each month, before going to his duties at the hospital, to discuss issues involving the city.

Peterson has been married to his wife, Michelle, for 30 years. Their son is a police officer in Wayne and has two daughters.

Health officials say masks key in safely reopening schools

As local schools consider options for reopening in the fall, health officials say a key component will be face masks.

Cloth face coverings are an additional step to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, when combined with everyday preventative actions and social distancing in public settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

“Cloth face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control,” the website states. “This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain.”

The CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others and are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.

Face masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said face masks are just one of the tools that can be used to prevent transmission of the disease. Others include maintaining a 6-foot distance between people and staying home when sick.

That’s why those recommendations are included in the discussion as area school boards weigh options in reopening schools in the fall.

Bever said the health department has been working with the schools ever since they were closed in the spring. They provided guidance as schools started talking about graduation ceremonies and summer school.

Now, they are working together to reopen schools this fall while continuing to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Public health across the state has been working together and looking at the guidance from the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics,” Bever said.

She said they have developed core principles for reopening schools based on past experience with other respiratory diseases and attributes learned about COVID-19. The goal is to avoid another complete shutdown of schools.

“We’re all tired and weary of this but it’s not gone,” she said. “We do need to continue taking actions to prevent spreading this if we want to safely reopen and not have to shut them down again.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends wearing masks if possible in its new guidance for reopening schools in light of the coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.

“Cloth face coverings protect others if the wearer is infected with SARS CoV-2 and is not aware,” its website states. “Cloth masks may offer some level of protection for the wearer. Evidence continues to mount on the importance of universal face coverings in interrupting the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Although ideal, universal face covering use is not always possible in the school setting for many reasons.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states some students or staff may be unable to safely wear a cloth face covering because of certain medical conditions, such as developmental, respiratory or tactile aversion. The use of cloth face coverings by teachers may impede the education process for some, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students receiving speech/language services, young students in early education programs, and English-language learners.

For individuals who have difficulty with wearing a cloth face covering and it isn’t medically contraindicated to wear a face covering, behavior techniques and social skills stories can be used to assist in adapting to wearing a face covering.

Since some of the recommendations can’t be used in every instance, Bever said they recommend people try to implement as many as possible to minimize the chances of contracting the disease.

“Our schools are different,” she said. “One size doesn’t fit all. We have an arsenal of things we can do but not all will work in every setting.”

She said wearing masks also can be a factor in determining whether a potential contact needs to be quarantined. When a new case is discovered, the health department does contact tracing to learn who that person has been in contact with. Depending on the nature of that contact, the person may need to self-quarantine as a precaution.

“If nobody was wearing masks and close together, then we would say most people are probably exposed,” she said. “We would assume that everybody needs to be quarantined.”

But if the contact was in a setting where people were wearing face masks, Bever said the exposed people may not need to be quarantined.

For the most part, Bever said many people have been adhering to those recommendations, which can be seen in the relaxed restrictions.

“Folks have done a great job here,” she said. “We really flattened the curve. That’s because people worked so hard. It’s because of all that action that we’ve had fewer cases.”

But that’s not to say the community is out of the woods. Bever said people need to maintain social distancing to keep the numbers low.

“I think everybody would agree that our goal as a community should be that we want to have safe events for people,” she said. “We can do this, it’s not really that big a deal. Let’s protect others and keep everyone safe.”