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Wheat Field Fire

30 Aug final-2

We did have some small amount of excitement this year while harvesting wheat.  It was the perfect storm in many ways, mostly in good ways thankfully!

It was on one of those really super hot days we have been having here at the tail end of summer.  Probably in the high 90’s and we were two rounds into a field of standing wheat. Hoot had just climbed in the cab with Matt and I to make a few rounds (to make sure we are doing it right of course!) and as we turn the corner in the combine he starts to yell and point, “Burning Mommy!”  And sure enough I looked to where he was pointing and saw flames 15 feet in the air….chaos quickly ensued.  “Fire!” over the radio, meanwhile one of our guys saw the flames and was running to his rig to get extinguishers.  Equipment driving out of the field as fast as possible, a call to 911…it was all very crazy!

Here are the things that went wrong…our best guess is that the sickle bar hit a rock and caused a spark, which caused the field to start on fire very quickly.  The wheat is incredibly dry when we are harvesting so it doesn’t take much for fire to start and spread very rapidly.final

But here’s what went right.  Firefighter Hoot was on scene and spotted the blaze quickly!  We had everyone there!  Both truck drivers, my dad, Matt and myself were all miraculously in the field at that moment.  90% of the time it’s just the combine driver and maybe a truck driver, not much for manpower.   The wind was blowing away from the standing wheat so it spread the fire as far as the headland and then stopped.  We had plenty of fire extinguishers and the guys moved fast to wet the standing wheat and put out small spot fires.  It was a great job done by everyone!final-2

We were lucky that day, this whole thing could have been a very different story if the wind had shifted, if it had happened just 30 minutes before…really the what-ifs are endless.  I have never harvested looking back in my mirrors so much in my life!  It was also a little nerve wracking harvesting next to the burned area on the next round, I am pretty sure I was holding my breath!  final-1I can honestly say this year I was glad to put the combine away on the hottest days that were yet to hit a few weeks ago.  Here’s to hoping that never happens again, and if it does, we get all the things that “went right” again!

Wheat harvest

22 Aug final-6

We are finally done harvesting our 7th crop for 2016, spring wheat!!  final-5final-1The process of harvesting is slow for us, mainly because we are working with equipment that runs…but is old and a bit slower than newer machines and equipment.  But it gets the job done, and when the weather cooperates, it works well for our farm.

The first step is combining the wheat, or separating the grain kernels from the straw.  final-2You can see the grain filling up in the grain bin behind my head while I drive.  This is where the grain is kept until I have to dump into the truck.  Once it gets into the tank we then dump into trucks on the go.  The less we stop, the more we get done, and efficiency is key.final-3Once the truck is full it takes the wheat to our grain bins.  Using an auger, we move the wheat from a pit on the ground up to the top of the grain bin and it falls down in slowly filling up with grain.

final-7final-8finalThe tube that you see along the ground is an airation tube.  When the grain comes in it can be very warm because of the heat of the day.  The tube runs to the outside of the bin and has a fan attached.  The fan brings cool air into the bin at night, then as it blows through the wheat it cools it down so it can be safely stored.

final-4Hoot & my mom Karen (better known as Mimi) checking things out while the wheat dumps from the truck into the auger.

This wheat will be stored here until later into the winter when we will truck it up to a seed plant to be cleaned and eventually taken out to farms next spring to be planted again.  It feels good to be cleaning the combine one last time of the season.

We are hitting the point here when we get to put things to bed for the year.  Homestretch is always a nice term, followed by a long sigh of “there’s light at the end of the tunnel!”

A Farmer’s Bottom Line

15 Aug final-145

Everyday farmers make decisions that affect their bottom line.  Being a conventional farmer, I make decisions all the time regarding which chemicals to spray based on what the fields need and what they don’t.  But it’s not as simple as you may believe.  There are many factors at play, and this week I experienced just how complicated it can be.

Matt and I were out walking our green bean field that is due to be harvested this week.  While walking around, we noticed a good amount of spring wheat sprouting.  This wasn’t too surprising since last year the field was planted with spring wheat; these were “volunteer” plants growing from residual seeds left over.  We had both seen the wheat before, but figured that it wasn’t a big deal given that the harvesters would have no problem cutting through the thin stocks.  So, in our minds there was no issue. final-144The grassy looking crop is the spring wheat that has volunteered in the green bean field.

Unfortunately we were wrong.  After consulting with our field man, we were told that wheat is a huge issue because of allergens that could move from the field to the processor and eventually to the end product.  I have to tell you here that this never even crossed my mind, but I’m sure glad someone mentioned it to us!  If there is wheat found in your green bean crop, the processor can reject the whole field. Yes, that’s right; you would have to just leave the entire crop right there, unharvested. As you can imagine, this would be devastating to our farm.

This is where the story gets interesting. After telling us that this is a major problem, the next words out of the field man’s mouth were, “Too bad we didn’t find this last week, you could have sprayed.  But now it’s too close to harvest and the label doesn’t allow it.”

I’ll stop here and mention that all registered pesticides have a label attached. This is a booklet that is on the jug that outlines the rules and regulations behind spraying that pesticide. This is where you go to see the order for mixing chemicals, the precautions to use when handling the product including what protective gear to wear, and how long a person has to stay out of the sprayed area.  This is also where you find the “pre-harvest interval” or the amount of time required between application and harvest.

Matt and I hear this as we are standing in a field of green beans that we had worked hard to raise and take care of, one that would provide healthy food for thousands of people, one that hopefully will give us a good return and one that we hoped we were done spending money on.  And now we were faced with the knowledge that we could take two hours, with minimal cost in chemical, and get rid of the wheat entirely.  But that would not be following the label and would essentially be breaking the law.  Or we could tell all of our employees that they had to walk a field of green beans and pull wheat by hand, the cost of which would be substantial with six employees taking about four days to get this accomplished.  Also taking time away from other important tasks on the farm.final-145

I say this as though it was a decision that we talked about.  But it wasn’t.

The only option on our farm, the only option on farms across the nation, was to pay for the labor to get the job done right.  My point is that these rules are in place for a reason, and we all appreciate and respect that.  While I don’t have a regulator out in my fields all the time, I still follow the rules because there is good reason for them!  And it’s the right thing to do.

This week, when we head out to harvest these green beans, you can bet that my kiddos will be out there right beside us, eating those green beans that are being harvested right in front of them.  They will do that because the beans are safe, because we followed the rules, and because we farm responsibly, like farmers across America, to grow safe, high-quality food.

Decisions made on a farm are based on continuously moving parts.  Decisions made today might change if made tomorrow. Factors, such as the weather, pests, the crop, the timing of the plant itself, all come into play to make a seemingly simple decision to just go out and “dowse” our crops because it’s cheaper become incredibly complicated.  I have experienced this decision many times while farming, but the answer is always very clear: It’s not just about our bottom line, it’s about safe and healthy food. Period.

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