Thursday, June 30, 2016

Road Trip: Wheat Harvest Version

My first job on the farm was driving a pickup while my dad picked up fence posts. I was in elementary school at the time. Long before I had my driver's license, I moved trucks around in the harvest field. These were the days before my dad had a grain cart to haul the grain from the combine to the truck. So I'd move the truck closer to the wheat so my dad didn't have to go as far to dump the bin load each round.

When I got my farm permit, I drove the wheat trucks to the Iuka Co-op. Our hired man, Ed, was my patient navigator the first year. He taught me the fine points of waiting in line, unrolling the tarp, how to dump the truck and instructions in the fine art of elevator etiquette. But, after that, I made dozens of trips to the elevator during wheat harvest each year.

When Randy and I were first married, I worked at The Hutchinson News, so I didn't drive the truck, except on weekends. After I "retired" from that job and the kids got a little older, I was back in the driver's seat again.

However, I've never driven our semi. This is the second wheat harvest we've had it. I know I could learn. But we've had a hired man available to do it, so my job has transitioned to go-fer and cook.

The other evening, after one of our rain delays during harvest, our hired man wasn't back yet, so Randy asked if I'd like to go with him as he drove the semi with a load of wheat to Zenith.
It's definitely a different perspective, viewing the familiar Zenith Road from a loftier perch.
We arrived at our destination - our favorite prairie skyscraper.
Randy unrolled the tarp.
He pulled the semi onto the scales at the co-op office, where they weigh the loaded truck. With the orange probe, they get a sample of the wheat and test for quality, including weight, moisture, protein and foreign matter.
This was taken in 2015. This trip, I was inside the truck cab.
Through the rearview mirror, we could see that they wanted us to take the truck to location "B" - inside the elevator. 
These elevators were designed long before there were big semi trucks. It's a tight squeeze.
If I were the driver, I would much rather dump at the outside pit, location "C."
Photo from 2015 - the outside dump location
I captured Randy's shadow in the mirror behind us as he waited for the wheat to flow into the elevator pit. After so many harvests, I like finding different images that tell the story.
Photo from 2015, showing co-op guys opening the hatches.
Once the truck is in position, the co-op workers open the hatches underneath the truck. The semi truck is emptied through gravity. (We also have a tandem truck that has a lift to dump the grain. For photos of that, click HERE.)
With the grain unloaded, Randy pulled back onto the scales for an empty weight. We also pick up the ticket which gives a record of how much wheat we delivered that trip and its quality. 
Then, it was back to the field to fill 'er up again.
The farmer or landlord pays a storage fee to the co-op based on the amount of time the grain was stored before being sold. Then, it belongs to the co-op. When the co-op sells it, most is trucked out of the elevator to the buyer. (In the past, rail travel helped move a lot of grain, too, but most of it is trucked these days, at least in this area.)

FYI:  When I pulled up a blog post from last year, I saw that wheat was $5.15 on June 23. Wheat closed at $3.15 on the board at Zenith yesterday. 

Thankfully, we were able to start cutting again yesterday afternoon after our Tuesday rain delay. We had to move to a different location. It is a slow process, since the wheat is down fairly badly and he's still having to battle some mud. But the wheat yields are still above average, though quality has suffered with the rains.

Still, we're glad to be back at it! Every swath puts us a little closer to done.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Stormy Weather ... and Attitudes

I used HDR in editing this photo (just FYI).
I was off on a parts run to Hutchinson when I got the dreaded phone call: "No need to hurry home. We just got rain, wind and hail where we were cutting wheat."

It was all I could do not to cry at the parts counter of Straub's. Yes, harvest is yet again halted in its tracks.

While I can't compete with Mr. Optimistic, in general, I'm a fairly positive person. But the stormy weather is creating some stormy attitudes on the County Line right about now. We started Wheat Harvest 2016 on June 15. Here we are - two weeks later - and we are a little more than halfway done.

At this little space on the internet, I try to leave a bit of beauty and light through photos and words. But there are times when some honesty is in order, too. I can't do a darn thing about the weather. Well, I guess I can complain about it, though it doesn't do any good.
The stormy sky as a backdrop for the Zenith elevator made for a pretty spectacular photo as I turned toward home. OK, there's a positive.

I know that I'm supposed to be all thrilled that it rained for our fall crops. And I am thankful for that. But let's get real: We are wheat farmers.

The current price of wheat at my local co-op is $3.26 per bushel. During the 9-month life cycle of this crop, we've spent money on seed, fertilizer, herbicide and fungicide. Throw machinery costs, fuel costs, labor costs, insurance premiums and land costs into the mix.
I'll tell myself we're breaking even. I'm not sure that's true. But it's why it's even more important to get it out of the field and into the elevator. After rain (and hail in one location), the wheat keeps sagging lower to the muddy ground, making it even more of a challenge to cut. 

We decided not to have any of our acres custom harvested this year because of purchasing the new-to-us combine at a farm sale this spring - and because the price is so low.

I read an article last week that said the price of wheat on July 1, 1976, was $3.50. Yes, you read that right: 1976, 40 years ago, the price of wheat was higher than it is today. Can you think of anything else that has gone down in price in the past 40 years? Me neither.
This wheat stalk must be the optimist in the bunch!
While at the co-op website to check the price, I looked at the weather forecast for the next few days:
Wednesday, 55% chance of precipitation
Thursday, 41%
Friday, 80%

On Monday, Randy fought mud as he slogged through the wheat field across the road, finally giving up and moving to what he hoped was a drier location. It's not drier any more. Randy was not the only thing that got soaked as he tarped the trucks yesterday. So did the wheat and the ground upon which it stands.
Sunshine after the storm went through. We only got 0.20" at home, but that's where he was fighting mud already.
So ... back to the fall crops: The rain was good for the corn. However, since we are exclusively dryland farmers, we don't have a large amount of corn or milo planted. Wheat is far and away our bread and butter - pun intended.
The corn is tasseling and pollinating now. The cooler temperatures are beneficial to that process, too.
Silver lining? I suppose. But we have a long time until harvest on corn, and I'm not counting on anything at the moment. 
Rant over? Maybe. I'll try to be back to my more cheerful self the next time. I do have some pretty photos to share from a 4-wheeler check of the Ninnescah Pasture during another rain delay. The rains nourish the pasture grasses and the cattle look great. Maybe reviewing those photos will lower my blood pressure. Or maybe I need another trip to listen to the water rush over the dam at the pasture.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Star-Spangled White Chocolate Blondies

Hooray for the red, white and blue! And hooray for festive and easy bar cookies!

With the 4th of July weekend fast approaching, I decided to substitute patriotic sprinkles in a blondies recipe. The original recipe called for rainbow sprinkles. But this recipe can be adapted to any celebration by substituting seasonal sprinkles.
I first tried the recipe for Memorial Day. Since I was taking some for our annual "cemetery tour" afternoon, I dressed them up even more by zig-zagging candy coating on top of cut bars and then adding additional sprinkles. I left part of the bars plain and put them in the freezer for harvest.

The white chocolate chips inside the bars are tasty with - or without - the extra drizzle. They've been a hit either way. Want to add a little fireworks to your 4th of July party? Try these easy bars!
Star-Spangled White Chocolate Blondies
Adapted from the blog, Cookies and Cups
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pkg. white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sprinkles (rainbow or holiday), plus 1/4 cup for garnish
Almond bark (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking spray to coat a sheet cake pan, 10- by 15-inches.

Using a mixer, mix butter and sugars until well creamed. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Combine dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture, scraping bowl to combine. Add white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup sprinkles until well incorporated.

Press dough into the prepared pan. Top with the additional sprinkles, pressing lightly into the dough. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown.

Allow to cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. You may serve them plain. If you'd like to "dress them up," melt almond bark in a glass measuring cup, using the microwave. Heat for 1 minute at 70 percent power. Continue until almond bark is melted. Use a decorator's tube to create zigzags on cut blondies. Sprinkle with additional sprinkles, if desired.

You could use rainbow sprinkles. Or use sprinkles to fit any holiday theme.


Today, I'm linked to Weekend Potluck, hosted by these bloggers. Check out the tried-and-true recipes from them and other foodies!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

Perhaps you have noticed that even
in the very lightest breeze,
you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree.
--Black Elk

The big old cottonwood tree has had a supporting role in many a photo on the County Line.
As we've taken cattle in and out of the pasture we call "Palmer's," it has stood as a sentinel to our comings and goings just beyond the southwest gate. Its stance at the bottom of a cottonwood-tree-lined hill made it the focal point for photos as Randy would go back to close the gate and I'd step out of the pickup to document its fall or summer "outfit."
But a mighty wind felled the mighty cottonwood Friday night.
The weather ticker at the bottom of the TV screen Friday night said there were 58 mph winds at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. That gave a definition to the howling I could hear outside my living room windows. I'm always a little concerned when the wind screams ferociously. Our house is nestled among many old trees. Someday, I envision one of them crashing into the roof. This time, our homestead trees survived. But one of my favorite cottonwoods did not.
The cottonwood stood just across the dirt road from this Quivira National Wildlife Refuge sign, "Headquarters, Visitors Center, 1 mile." (You can see the old cottonwood's leaves in the upper righthand corner of this photo from 2010.)

But it will no longer stand at attention as visitors drive to the refuge or as we make trips to the pasture. Look closely at the photo below and you'll see Randy in the center.
 That gives a better gauge of the massive size of the old cottonwood tree.
The tree snapped apart and completely blocked the road.
Randy didn't think our loader tractor could do the job of moving the massive trunk, so he called the township board. They already had it taken care of by Sunday evening.
We can't believe it didn't squash the fence when it crashed to the ground.
You can see how massive it is. Randy is in the lower right of this photo, hidden among the leaves.
More cottonwood trees line the road to the east. They survived this round of storms. As I stepped through the fallen branches, I realized that the cottonwood leaves that I'd used to frame many photos on the lefthand side were now framing the righthand side of the shot. .

Here the old cottonwood was decked out in its fall finery during one of our trips to take cattle to the pasture.
I have a lifetime love of cottonwoods. At my childhood home, an old cottonwood stands near the south driveway. The cottonwood tree has been one of the first things visitors see as they approach the farmstead and one of the last things you see silhouetted by a sunset sky at night.

Mighty cottonwoods form a canopy down many a country road in rural Kansas. Early Kansas settlers found the native trees as they arrived from the eastern U.S. When the Kansas Legislature chose the cottonwood (Populus deltoides) are the state tree in 1937, the proclamation read:
"Whereas, if the full truth were known, it might honestly be said that the successful growth of the cottonwood grove on the homestead was often the determining factor in the decision of the homesteader to 'stick it out until he could prove up on his claim'; and Whereas, The cottonwood tree can rightfully be called 'the pioneer tree of Kansas.' "
They are like the old family patriarch - tall, stately, but maybe a little rough around the edges after years of standing through the changing seasons. Just like the road to the Palmer pasture, many a country road is lined with these big old trees, which seem to wave a friendly greeting in the Kansas breeze. On early morning or late evening trips to check cattle, the cottonwood's leaves rustle and birds serenade from their branches. Their attire changes with the seasons - whether clothed in green for summer or in yellow finery for fall or stark and drab in winter's solemnity.

In 2011, the Kansas Cattle Drive herded longhorns down the road and past the cottonwood as they traveled to Quivira for an overnight stay.
The old cottonwood had towered over the longhorns and the riders as they traversed the dusty road.
You know that old saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."  Yes, and the bigger they are, the harder to watch them fall, too.

Goodbye, old friend. It's been good to know you.

Monday, June 20, 2016

For Good Measure

Taken June 8, 2016
I may have my pay docked. As recorder of the goings-on at the County Line, I usually try to document the growth of crops through photos and words. In early June, as I returned home after nearly a week at a church conference in Topeka, I realized that I hadn't yet used my handsome human measuring stick to show our 2016 corn crop's progress.  After generous May rains and June sunshine, the corn was about knee-high on June 8.
June 18, 2016
Since I didn't get that photo shared in a timely manner, I took another one 10 days later -  Saturday, June 18. Even with our extreme 100-plus-degree days, the corn had grown some more and was almost to Randy's waist.
However, some of it will have to straighten itself back up after 58-mph winds Friday night. The storm also brought 1.80" of rain. The big drink of water definitely helped the corn crop, which was stressed after all the high temperatures from last week. It will give a boost to the milo and forage sorghum that Randy planted as well.
A storm that rolled through late Friday night made parts of the field look like the Leaning Tower of Piza, especially along the edges of the field, where it caught the brunt of the wind. I'm told that much of it will recover. We shall see!
April 23, 2016
Here's the journey thus far:  We planted the corn crop in late April. It was the crop that "almost wasn't." A dry spring had Randy considering not planting any corn. But some timely rain changed his mind, and we started planting corn, amid plenty of planter breakdowns. (It's good it's not a major crop because it seemed we were interrupted frequently by repeated trips to the parts counter in Hutchinson.)
May 7, 2016
In fact, Randy had to do some reseeding because the planter wasn't working properly. But some of the corn was already off to a good start at that time.
May 25, 2016
By late May, the corn we'd had to replant was growing next to its "big brothers."
May 25, 2016
And, now, according to my human measuring stick, it's waist high ... and growing. 

Before the storm
The 1.80" of rain temporarily halted Wheat Harvest 2016. We hope to be able to get back to cutting later today.