Sunday June 23rd 4 p.m. - Hamilton County's wheat harvest is underway at least for our family. One of our 1985 John Deere 8820 combines and our 1991 Chevy tandem truck start their work. It is one of our best fields. And while an average year in the northwest part of the county has our dryland wheat standing 2 to 3 feet tall, this dirt blowing, drought ridden year, has caused the wheat to stand 12 inches tall. The wheat is very short and has trouble feeding into the machine. Yet we are hoping for a surprising 15 bushels per acre. This particular 160 acres has been no-tilled for the past five years. Last year to kill the kochia, we (and by we I mean not me) walked with shovels through the field to kill the weed by hand. The hard work may be paying off. With just a few inches of rain, 15 bushel wheat says a lot. We will see what it brings.
While this is some of our tallest wheat, it is still short and there are several problems with short wheat. The 12 inch wheat doesn't feed through the auger in the header very well. Also, the stubble left behind is 4 to 6 inches tall which is a problem when we are trying to leave stubble tall enough to provide ground cover to preserve the moisture and keep the dirt from blowing for another year at least. It is 96 degrees out and the air conditioner has just quit. So my husband, Heath, is cutting wheat with no air in the cab. I bring him a cold wet towel to put over his shoulders and give him a tall bottle of icy water with an electrolyte supplement. With little cloud cover and no breeze, the cab of the combine is an oven. Since the custom cutters aren't coming, time is of the essence. When isn't it? Workers are few as we are still planting milo. Tuesday is the last day to plant to ensure we have crop insurance. It is also the last day to plant to make sure the milo matures before the first freeze. Because the cab is too hot, we can't ride in the combine with him. Instead I stop to take some pictures of our daughter Mia and dog Lucky in the wheat field. Mia is 35 inches tall right now and she towers over the wheat. I snap some pictures of the combine passing through the field and wait by the grain truck for Heath to unload the grain but it is clear that after a very long run, the bin is nowhere near full. It takes about four rounds to get the bin full. It is going to be a long harvest. In the morning, the grain elevator opens and a few trucks come through to get weighed but not to unload. Keeping seed wheat for next fall weighs heavy on farmers minds. The southern part of the county is normally a week ahead of us northern folks when it comes to harvest. Not this year. At 10:30 a.m. we are the first to unload our wheat and its Mia's first time through the elevator. The test weight is 58.5 pounds, about average so far. By the end of the day, the local grain elevator has taken in only a handful of loads. Tomorrow will be even more challenging as we move to a new field that has even shorter wheat and tall terraces. See you in the morning!
Hamilton County farm wife, photographer and writer Michele Boy will be chronicling this year's wheat harvest for The News as she and her husband, Heath, bring in what is left of their drought-plagued wheat fields.