The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wheat Harvest in Kansas

pmccool's picture

Wheat Harvest in Kansas

In spite of the crazy, rainy weather of the past week or two, farmers in Kansas and other Great Plains states are trying to get the wheat harvested whenever field conditions allow. On my way home from work this evening, I saw these guys making their way across a field:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

As soon as I got home, I gathered up my camera and my 5-year old grandson and headed back to the field so that he could see what a combine looked like and what it did. And to grab these pics, too. Yes, those are office buildings in the background of the picture, above. Johnson County is home to a number of Kansas City suburbs and more farm land gets paved every year for subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, etc. Hard to complain about it too much, since I'm part of the problem.

Here's a closer shot of the combine as it crossed our line of sight:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

This last shot shows one of the two combines at work in the field stopping to unload into a waiting semi-truck trailer:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

In this shot, you can see a traffic light and part of a house in the background.

My grandson was quite impressed by the big machinery, even though he didn't completely understand what was going on. I tried to explain how the kernels from the stalk of wheat that I plucked for him were the part of the wheat that was being harvested and that it would be milled into flour for breads, cookies, pies and so on. I know he understood the food end of it and he knows what flour is; I just don't think he has a concept of how something growing in a field could be turned into those things. It will come, eventually. At least he has had an introduction to one of the steps in the process.

Oh, and for the curious among you, it's winter wheat. It was planted in October or November of last year.



browndog's picture

This is really intriguing, I've seen pictures (a son who adored trucks as a very little boy. Do I know from backhoes or what?) but my, a real on-the-job combine. In Wisconsin the farms are huge enough but they were all dairy in my area, with the occasional massive field of sunflowers a little further south. Here in Vermont there's not much left for working dairy farms, and the substantial ones are mostly in the Champlain Valley. Many of us keep some livestock and there's always the hay to get in--even there, round bales are just starting to be common--still plenty of hands-on 35 lb square bales to be had. So the contrast for me is pretty sharp.

Great pictorial, thanks.

>Hard to complain about it too much, since I'm part of the problem.<

That's okay, we'll do it for you.



subfuscpersona's picture

thank you so much

Trishinomaha's picture

Made me homesick - I'm from Wichita originally and my grandfather was a wheat farmer around the Pratt area and farmed into his 80's. I've actually been on one of those big combines out in the wheatfields (a great place to play hide and seek with the cousins by the way) and have ridden in the truck to level the grain when the combine funneled it in. Thanks for starting my day with some good memories - I even almost remember the smell - earthy and wonderful!

susanfnp's picture

Thanks for the photos! I think sometimes those of us who don't see these sights often tend to forget that flour is something that comes from grain in a field, not a bag in a store.


pmccool's picture

When I was a small boy, probably about 4 years old, the farmer across the road from my parents' farm arranged a threshing day.  His grain (oats, I think, or maybe rye) had been cut a few days earlier with a binder and the sheaves were stacked in shocks.  On threshing day itself, I was absolutely agog to see a steam-powered tractor come chuffing down our road, towing a thresing machine.  While one group of men maneuvered the threshing machine and the tractor into position and fitted the drive belt between the two, others fanned out into the field with tractors and wagons to pick up the grain and bring it back to the threshing machine's location. 

The sheaves were pitch-forked into the hopper at one end of the machine (I can't remember if they had to remove the twine first, or if it was sliced up as the grain traveled through the machine) and clouds of dust rolled out as the grain traveled through.  There was a marvelous symphony of creaking and scraping and whirring and puffing and squeaking as the tractor and threshing machine labored.  Soon a thin stream of kernels began pouring into the burlap bags at the other end of the threshing machine, while the straw and chaff arced up and away from what looked like a giant stove-pipe and then descended to the ground, where it grew into a shining, golden mountain as the day wore on.

Too young to be of much use, I went wherever my curiosity took me.  Sometimes I "helped" the men bagging the grain, admiring their skill as they tied the bags closed with short pieces of twine, looping some sort of hitch knot in a motion that was too quick for me to follow.  Seeing someone's muscles and veins bulge as he lifted the filled bags (probably 80-100 pounds each) onto a truck impressed me no end.  Other times I just hung back and watched the machinery, marvelling at its size and power and complexity.  Keep in mind that the tractor and threshing machine combined would not have equalled even one-half of the weight or size of the machines pictured, above.  Still, they were enormous to a little boy.  Most of the time, I was probably just underfoot, looking at it from an adult's perspective.  I do remember how good the lemonade tasted when the ladies who were cooking sent out big coolers full of it from time to time.

The thing that amazes me today, and that I really didn't understand even then, was why our neighbor chose to do it at all.  Combines were already commonplace, although they were very small (compared to the monsters in the photos, above) and towed by tractors, instead of being self-propelled.  Part of it may have been nostalgia.  Part of it, perhaps the biggest part, was for the social connections with other farm families; a communal gathering that ostensibly benefitted just the one but really benefitted everyone who participated.

Whatever his reasons, I am tremendously grateful that he did.  It granted me a window into the past, when that sort of thing was very much the norm for my parents and grandparents.  And I am grateful that I could share a small part of that with my grandson yesterday, even if we were purely spectators and not participants.


pumpkinpapa's picture

We have about 100 acres of volunteer winter wheat (it was leftover after last years harvest from a planting in the fall of 2005) due to be harvested next week likely. If anyone is interested in shots from the harvester cab, hopper, etc. the cash cropper is always warm to such things. After the wheat the straw is harvested, if there is any left that is.

The main problem for us is that Ontario is experiencing a drought as we have had about 40 mm rainfall since April 1st. There are 2-3 inch cracks in some places! So irrigation is a must but I never got in my pumpkin crop.

This is shot of the wheat behind us:

winter wheat july 2007










Speaking of round bales, I just brought in 2 of them for my sheep, only 400-500 pound rolls. One from the first cut this year which is the best quality in 20 years but only half the average volume due to the lack of rain, while the other was left over from last year when we had the normal rainfall which gave us a surplus of hay but a shortage of straw

browndog's picture

That's a pretty, pretty scene, pumpkinpapa, and PMcCool and Trish, beautiful memories. It's something how a couple of pictures of a machine and a wheat field has evoked so much, thanks for sharing.

scott lynch's picture
scott lynch

Reading this thread reminded me of the years I lived in eastern WA in the region known as the Palouse.  They grow lots of wheat there, durum if I recall correctly, and it is beautiful country--very hilly.  The farmers will often plant or harvest on contour lines, so when you look out over a long vista it looks like a topographic map.
I found pictures here that capture some of it:
A long view of the area
At work cutting wheat
(tried to capture the photos but was unable, sorry)
Look at the combine.  Note that the cutter is tilted parallel to the slope but the cab of the machine is dead vertical.  The farmers in this hilly country use self-leveling tractors and combines. If you've ever driven a tractor on a side-hill you will know that it is scary indeed.
Detail of a self-leveling combine here:

Speaking of scary, I had a friend who drove a wheat truck and she said that handling the truck on those slopes covered with slippery stubble and chaff was pretty hairy.
Thanks for bringing back the memories.