There’s nothing like harvest for most Kansas farm families


HarvestJustMJ.jpgFor the Lampe family, the 2008 harvest began June 25. They started cutting wheat shortly after 9 a.m. Mountain time. The family?s farm is located in Hamilton County, about 10 miles southeast of Syracuse and just a few miles from the Colorado border.

Already the sun blazed down on a patchwork of golden grain that dots the High Plains. Several days of warm, 20 mph southerly winds had turned the wheat crop to its ripened edge.

On this late June morning, the Lampe family had already shifted into high gear. The roar of the green machine signaled another run at harvest?the culmination of nearly nine months of waiting, watching, hoping and praying.

This well-oiled, four-person team is up to the task of early mornings and days that may last until after dark, or when grain becomes too moist or too tough to cut. This shouldn?t happen if storms steer clear of the field.

Farmers hate days when weather changes and the sun ducks in and out of the clouds. On those days, they baby-sit the crop. They test a field here, then move to another down the road hoping to find wheat dry enough to harvest.

The weather cooperated on the Lampe family?s first day in the wheat fields. On the initial trip to the elevator Jim Lampe hauled nearly 950 bushels in his white Freightliner tractor-trailer truck. The moisture tested 9.8 percent and the test weight was 63.4 pounds per bushel on his Jagalene (variety) wheat.

?It?s been a long time since we had a 63 pound weight,? Jim says, breaking into a broad smile. ?Usually in May if we don?t get some moisture the wheat will shrivel up to nothing but it?s hanging in there. I?m pleased.?

After three truckloads and nearly 2,600 bushels cut, Jim figures the wheat may be making close to 40 bushels per acre. He says this year?s crop was made with moisture from the snow of the 2007 winter.

?We had two feet of snow on the level out here and we didn?t receive enough moisture during the growing season to raise this crop,? the Hamilton County farmer says. ?It?s a direct result of the snow we received in ?07.?

Climbing back into his truck, Jim headed back to Syracuse to dump the next load. It takes nearly an hour to make the trip. With time at a premium, fifteen-minute breaks for lunch and dinner are about the only time off during a 14-hour workday.

Although the days seem to last forever, technology has made life easier compared to the dusty, itchy days of yesteryear when Jim?s father and grandfather sat on open-air seats and ate dust while sweat ran down their faces. It still gets pretty hot when you?re out of the truck, tractor or combine. The mercury topped 102 degrees the first afternoon of cutting.

Today?s giant combines look more like tanks rolling through the flat western Kansas landscape. Jim?s son, Tate, pilots their 12-ton machine as easily as the family car.

His combine is complete with contoured seat, soundproof cab wrapped in tinted glass, air-conditioning and stereo. A digital computer monitors the entire operation. Equipped with dual brakes, power steering and automatic transmission, the combine moves through the field at speeds up to 5 mph.

One machine can harvest about 160 acres of wheat on a good day. If the crop is yielding 40 bushels per acre that would total 6,400 bushels.

There?s nothing farmers like more than seeing the grain coming into the header and hauling it to the elevator. Nothing is more rewarding than to reap a crop they?ve sowed.

For Lampe this harvest is something more. His entire family wife, Deb, older son, Tanner, and Tate, are all in the field with him. All play a vital role. Tanner drives the grain cart and Deb roams the fields keeping an eye on everyone and running errands while feeding and watering them.

?Being here with my wife and watching the kids doing their jobs that you?ve taught them over the years?yeah, it?s a real kick in the pants,? Jim says. ?It?s really a pleasure.?

The Hamilton County farmer gathers a few kernels of grain and sticks them into his mouth. He looks out over his land where the machine is moving through clouds of dust and chaff.

?You gotta take what?s given you in this country,? Jim says, chewing the wheat that?s now turned to gum. ?Some years what you receive is better than others.?

A Kansas farmer takes risks that test the strength of his spirit. He faces harvest with the hope of bounty. He makes his peace with his maker and keeps peace with his neighbors. Faced with the annual joys and trials of raising a wheat crop, it?s the only way.


John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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