Roland Harvesting cuts last wheat of the season
Tuesday, Aug. 6
Aside from the recent rain, there has also been another interesting problem we have encountered around Hemingford, Neb. Working on harvest, I have become very familiar with certain complications of growing wheat, such as rye, jointed goatgrass, rust, and sucker heads. However, this year I have been exposed to a new term: sawfly. Wheat stem sawfly is a native grass-feeding insect, about three-quarters of an inch long that feeds upon the wheat stem, causing it to break. A recent article by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln explains about the wheat stem sawfly sensation that has manifested much of western Nebraska’s wheat. Jeff Bradshaw, an entomologist in UNL’s Department of Entomology, reported, “We had a fairly warm, mild season last year, and the wheat stem sawfly overwinters as a pupa. If it is too warm in the spring, it will just decide to not emerge so it can actually carry over to the next year.” Bradshaw stated the high numbers of sawfly this year are partially carried over from last year.
The cycle of wheat stem sawflies begins when they lay eggs in the stem of wheat plants. Upon the larvae hatching, they damage the stems by girdling the wheat stalk. This weakens the upper portion of the wheat stem, making it vulnerable to high winds and often causing the wheat to collapse. When the wheat becomes lodged due to this, it makes it very challenging for the combines to harvest the fallen wheat, which can negatively affect yields. Bradshaw explains, “Not only can you not harvest the wheat, but when that wheat falls to the ground the mature grain can develop, leading to volunteer wheat. The volunteer wheat can be a host of aphids and wheat curl mites.”
Statistically speaking, one wheat head loss per square foot is equivalent to a bushel to the acre loss. This means that by not being able to pick up just one head of wheat within a square foot, the yield is affected by at least a bushel per acre less.
So what are farmers to do about this problem? Actually, management of sawfly is rather limited due to the lack of insecticides that are effective against them. The only known resistance from sawfly is planting hard-stemmed wheat varieties, which commonly have low yields. It has been suggested that swathing and windrowing the wheat while it is still somewhat green at the end of June could be beneficial. By doing this, it would cut the wheat before the sawfly has the opportunity to cut it. However, this requires twice the time and money to harvest the wheat since the windrows will have to be picked up after they have dried out. Futhermore, my brother-in-law, Kurt, mentioned that sawfly is a well-known issue in northern Montana, where he grew up. They have found sickle pickup guards or crop lifters to be helpful in harvesting the lodged, damaged wheat from sawfly.
The only management practice that is currently recommended to reduce sawfly is tillage. Research continues to find other options to eliminate wheat stem sawfly. In the meantime, as harvesters we do our best to cut as low as possible to pick up as much lodged wheat as we can. This is a tricky process since many farmers in the area practice no-till farming and would prefer taller stubble to catch snowfall in the winter.
Friday, Aug. 9
We had some excitement in our house last weekend, as two friends of the crew stopped by to visit Roland Harvesting for a couple days in Hemingford, Neb. Kyle and Graham, fellow classmates at the University of Wyoming, braved the trip to Nebraska to come experience harvest first-hand. We always welcome visitors but we also give out a friendly “warning.” If you venture out to our field here are some guidelines to remember:
1. First off, if it’s a planned visit we prefer you to come out to the field in work clothes (old jeans and closed-toed shoes). You will get dirty, dusty, greasy and sweaty.
2. We anticipate you asking a million questions and if you don’t we will volunteer the information. Bottom line: We’re going to talk your ear off regardless.
3. Be careful, pay attention, and use your head! Make sure you don’t stand behind equipment or in places the operator cannot see you. When a combine or tractor is running, keep your distance if you’re outside and if you’re in the cab don’t touch any levers or buttons unless we tell you to. Running harvest machinery is fun, but it is also very serious business so it’s important to remember the risks.
4. You can’t be shocked if we ask you to help—this could be washing windows, turning a wrench, moving a vehicle, greasing a header, fueling the tractor, picking up lunch in town, etc. An extra body is an extra helper!
5. You will get to ride in every piece of harvest equipment. Of course the most luxurious seat is probably in the combine, but trips into the elevator in the semi are always enjoyable. I personally find the most entertaining ride to be in the tractor and grain cart. There’s not a passenger seat in the tractor but cramming into the cab to bounce across the field is always amusing.
6. Of course, we always make sure that everyone stays safe during these rides and while helping out. However, our main intention is to bring others out of their comfort zone. The only way to fully understand how harvest operates is to jump in and experience it firsthand. If we have time and especially when we’re cutting our own wheat, we allow visitors to try driving the combine or tractor, just to give them a feel for it.
Kyle and Graham had perfect timing and showed up the day we were preparing for a long move. Luckily, they were cooperative helpers, which allowed us to relocate in one huge convoy. With three combines, a grain cart, the service truck, a pickup and semi to move we certainly used all hands on deck!
We continued to “babysit” these fields all day and took in samples every couple hours. In the meantime we gave rides to Kyle and Graham in the combines and even taught them how to drive the semis. We managed to keep ourselves very entertained during this down time.
In regard to the waiting game we always refer to “Dad’s rule of thumb,” which states: If the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, the wheat will usually drop one moisture point per hour. Although we were banking on this “rule” it did not prove true for us this time. To everyone’s disappointment the lowest sample we obtained was 15.8 percent at 6 p.m. so we finally called it quits and headed back home to the farm.
Although we never actually got to have a “usual harvest day” during Kyle and Graham’s visit, they still had a blast. I guess that just means they’ll just have to come back another time!
Sunday, Aug. 10
After three weeks of cutting, waiting on wet wheat, moving across multiple counties and dodging rain, Roland Harvesting is finally in the home stretch of home harvest. On Tuesday, we were able to complete our harvest run in Chadron, Neb., making it the longest stretch of time we have ever been there! Usually we pull into Chadron and are able to have the entire stop cut out before we even begin harvest at home. This year we were hung up there due to green wheat and tons of rain. Luckily we were able to shuffle combines and trucks around to back home, about 30 miles away, so we could keep busy.
With the last few sunshine-filled days drying things out we were also able to finish our final fields west of Hemingford, meaning 2013 home wheat harvest is officially done! We still have a few fields of peas to knock out at home but it looks like the TR 98 and CR 9060 can get them all harvested in a day or two. In the meantime, we are in the midst of moving home all of our equipment, blowing it off, cleaning it up, and loading it onto the trailers. We plan to leave for our next stop near Dickinson, N.D., tomorrow (Aug. 11) with the CR 8090, CR 9070 and grain cart. However, this move means another split for the Roland Harvesting crew. Mom and Dad will stay at home to finish up the peas then will head to Worland, Wyo., in a couple of days to harvest malting barley with their combine.
Megan Roland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org