Monday, August 12, 2013

Colorado Farm Country: Amber Waves of Grain

Hello, Friends. I am so far behind in blogging. The summer is nearly over and I have an iPhoto library full of summer adventures that I have just have not had to blog about. We have had non-stop company the last month, so my blogging has had to take a back seat to trips to the airport, cleaning, entertaining, cooking, and spending time with dear friends and family. Anyway. I am back. I read your posts everyday, trying to post comments from the iPad, but not always having very good luck with it.

I did get away before to visit my dear friends in Haxtun, Colorado in the far northeastern corner of the state-- a 2 hour drive. Sherry and I shopped and scrap booked and just hung out while her husband Dave worked long hours in wheat harvest. We also spent an afternoon out in the wheat field where  I took a lot of pictures, thinking that you would enjoy seeing the wheat harvest in action.

Meet my friend Dave Anderson. We go back a good many years. He was my high school student my first year of teaching sophomore English--a long, long time ago. We became friends years later when  his wife and I became the best of friends. He and his brother Dan run Anderson Wheat Farms, a 10,000 acre family farming operation that grows wheat, corn, and millet.  I rode with Dave in the semi back to wheat field and then I rode with his brother Dan in the combine as he combined the wheat. They run an impressive operation.

We took Dave his lunch at the farm where he was ready to unload the wheat that would be augured into the grain bin. Sherry and their boxer dog Harley take Dave his lunch everyday during harvest.

The wheat falls into the hopper from the semi trailer where it is lifted into the grain bin and stored until it is sold. Andersons grow seed wheat that is sold to other farmers who will raise their own crop.

The trailer has two bins that have to be emptied, each holding half a ton of wheat, taking about 15 minutes to unload each hopper.

Meanwhile out in the field, brother Dan runs one of the two combines that cuts the wheat.

Anderson's nephew runs the other combine, so while Dave takes a load back to the farm bin, the combines keep running.

It is literally a hands-free operation.

As Dan explains to me, this is farming at the highest technology level possible. With the on board computer and GPS satellite guidance (and Sirius radio, I might add), the farmer knows everything there is to know about not just the wheat itself (moisture content and yield), but the computer also maps every inch of the field so that the speed, depth of the cutter, and direction can be mapped and controlled. The information is stored on a flash drive that Dan can take home and the end of the day, pop it in his home computer and review the day's harvest.

The combine kicks up a lot of dust and it seems that the wind is always blowing across the fields on the hot summer days, carrying the dust across the land.

Once the combine is full, the wheat is transferred to the grain cart. Also computer guided, the tractor pulling the grain cart pulls up along side the combine to take on the load while the combine keeps moving.

Then it pulls up along side the semi to unload the wheat into the trailer.

While it appears to be a simple task to pull up along side the trailer, the grain cart driver has to carefully guide the tractor into position with the help of the on board computer. While the combine keeps moving as the wheat is transferred to the grain cart, the semi sits still while it takes on a load.

And Dave makes another trip to the farm to dump yet another load.

This is Petunia, the massive tractor that pulls the grain cart.

And this is Kaytlin, Dan's 13 year old daughter who drives Petunia. This is her second year driving the grain cart. She was trained last summer on short notice, but did so well that she got to keep her job. 

And  his son Dusty, 10,  who rides shot gun with whomever needs company.

Dan climbs back into his "office."

 I really liked photographing the combines. The wheat field sprawls to the horizon, symmetrically perfect, geometrically interesting, changing as the slow crawling machines suck up the wheat. Andersons grow about 2,200 acres of wheat, which Dave calculated that their harvest would make 7 million loaves of bread.

The view from inside the combine looking down as the wheat succumbs to the cutting heads.

Amber waves of grain.

In the time it took to make a round combining wheat, Dave returns to take on another load and this he repeats all day for about 10 days from 7 in the morning to 9 in the evening, barring any mechanical failures.

While her friends who live in town are hanging out at the Haxtun swimming pool or at home playing video games, Kaytlin is learning a work ethic. She is also earning a bit of spending money, while she banks the rest for her college education. The children are learning the family business so that someday they can, if they want, take over the farming operation. Dan explained that the kids take part in the harvest because they want to be part of the family business, not because they have to. Dave and Dan both have agriculture degrees from Colorado State University with whom they participate in agricultural research; they are leaders in the wheat growers associations at local, state, and federal levels. They take their work seriously and are rightfully proud of the work they do. While this day the sun was hot, the wind was swift, the sky as blue as it could be, and the machines were humming right through the golden grains, not all days are this idyllic. Weather is capricious and machines break down; the men put in long days only to get up the next day do it all over again until the job is done. When wheat harvest ends, soon corn harvest will begin, and  then winter wheat will be planted and the cycle of  planning for an abundant harvest the next year begins again.

They were glad to take me along, eager to explain the technology and the process of harvest. Thanks guys.

But my photo session didn't end in the wheat fields. Stay tuned for more of Colorado Farm Country.


  1. How technology must have changed farming. It's not that long since horses would be in the fields pulling wagons.

  2. A fascinating view into how our food is grown, I really enjoyed reading this post. My family in Alberta are all farmers, and it's been a while since I have seen it in action.


  3. This is such an interesting and beautiful post Ann, I was delighted. Amazing the advanced technology. I always say I want to visit USA before I die, to see the combines in the endless wheatfields and to attend a rodeo. I can understand you made lots of pictures, and you were in the "office" too. When I see the daughter on the graincart I remember my own youth, when I was 15 and on high school, I had to help in our summerholidays with the harvest, driving the tractor along the combine. Doing the same kind of job like she does but than in an oldfashioned way. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. What a fun post Ann! I love seeing how farming is in other parts of the country.

  5. The wheat fields are gorgeous, Ann! You took some beautiful photos!

  6. That's some big equipment! Bet it makes the jobs much easier than in the old days!

  7. Wow - blue skies as far as the eye can see - great photos Ann - what a job they do. I wonder if they ever get bored just staring ahead all day and trying to keep in a straight line.

  8. I like the pictures! What a great looking place! I am wondering if you know where I could get a good deal on a grain hopper trailer in Springfield IL?

  9. Thanks for sharing, and I don't know that much about the whole grain farm situation thing and grain hopper trailers for that matter. But I overheard a conversation about them the other day, and I wanted to see what they were.

  10. Thanks so much for this I've been looking around for grain hopper trailers and this was really useful to me. My friend told to check this site if I really need some help with it

  11. Your pictures that you've posted of your grain silos are really cool. How long ago did you get them? As far as I can tell they've got to be from the past 10 years or so maybe as recent as 5. Farm looks good, keep up the hard work and keep harvesting those "amber waves of grain."

    Luke |