Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat

It’s hard to explain my fascination with farming and farm equipment, but I am smitten. I’ve noticed my husband now automatically slows down when we drive by a farm with interesting agricultural activity going on: tractors crisscrossing fields, barn smokestacks billowing smoke during tobacco drying season, a team of horses pulling a cart driven by Mennonite farmers, or even something as mesmerizing as the swaying of “amber waves of grain.”  DSC_0905 He knows me well, and by slowing down he is giving me ample opportunity to ask him to pull over. Better than turning back later, a few miles down the road, Right? We are well beyond just “pulling over.” He is now, with coaxing, all about driving down these long, beckoning gravel roads. The views and the farmers we meet are the rewards.

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I am awestruck by all that I see.

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I fully appreciate that the crops from these commercial farms are feeding people across the nation and doing it in such a beautiful and orderly fashion that it transcends art and science. It is a miracle of nature, at least to a neophyte like me.

Recently, while driving down Route 68 in Cadiz, Kentucky, on our way to Hopkinsville (aka Hoptown), I spied this mash-up of amber and John Deere green.

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I had been following the growth of this field of winter wheat since the seeds were first planted back in mid-October, then through their winter dormancy period, and finally to their full maturation, the seed production stage in late spring.

The photo on the right shows the wheat seeds/grains harvested from one “ear” of wheat. The flecks in the dish are the husks that had surrounded the seeds and are known as chaff.

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Farming Equipment 101

The Combine

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The green machine is a “combine harvester,” a machine that harvests grain crops. The combine works by combining three labor intensive farm jobs: reaping, threshing, and winnowing crops. The blue machine is a grain cart that hauls the grain to a grain trailer which will then transport it to a mill either by truck or rail.

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The combine never has to stop working as there is commonly a grain cart traveling alongside it collecting the kernels as the vehicles roll across the fields. The grain is transferred via a 26-foot auger attached to the combine.  The efficiency of this system is brilliant. There is even a diesel fuel truck nearby ready to refuel the tractors, so they never have to leave the field. So, to refresh: green combine, to blue grain truck, to white grain trailer.

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These next few photos were taken from the window of the tractor cab pulling the grain cart. Paul, the tractor driver, kindly invited me to ride with him so I could see up close how the combine worked.

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Paul was ably assisted by his young grandson, Jordan, whom he was babysitting for the afternoon. Jordan was in his glory sitting beside his grandfather. Who needs Tonka trucks when you have the real thing?!

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Here is the combine reaping, or cutting down, the wheat (as seen through the window of the tractor).

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The reaper feeds the wheat into a feeder head which transports it to an internal thresher. The thresher beats the seed “ears” to separate the grains from their stems, and the chaff from the seeds. In other words, the thresher “separates the wheat from the chaff” an idiom which means to separate what is useful or valuable from what is worthless. Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

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Winnowing is the process of blowing air into the grain to blow off the chaff and other debris such as dirt before the grain enters the storage tank. As the combine moves along the field, you’ll notice a small dust storm flowing behind it. That is the chaff and stems being discarded back onto the field by the combine.

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The Planter
Another large and important farm machine is the planter. On this day, as soon as the combine finished harvesting the wheat, the planter, pulled by a tractor, came through to plant soybean seeds between the stalks and roots that remained from the harvested wheat. This is a no-till process; the farmer doesn’t remove the wheat stalks, or till them in. Leaving them in place to compost helps with weed control, soil erosion, saves on fuel costs, and helps with the bio-diversity of the land. The method of planting two crops in one field within one year is known as “double-cropping.”

This is a 16-row planter with individual seed hoppers (the yellow boxes).

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Each row planter unit uses compressed air, delivered via the black hoses, to drill the seed into the dirt. You can see the seed drill hanging between the two slanted black discs.

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There was an “aha” moment for me here: I immediately recognized the two slanted discs on the 16-row seed planter as similar to the two discs on the 2-row planter used by the farmers at Delvin Farms in College Grove, TN. I knew what they were for! You can read about how that planter works here.

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Another view of the planter: see the folded up wheels on the far right?  That’s a guide arm. When the farmer drives down a field with the guide arm unfolded, the small wheel makes a groove in the soil and lets the driver know where he needs to line up the center of his tractor when he turns to plant the next 16 rows.

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The Sprayer
There’s one more industrial-sized machine I have seen out on these commercial farms — the sprayer. The sprayer is used for fertilizing and applying pesticides.

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From the backside of the sprayer, you can see the storage tank for the chemicals.

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The bountiful grain harvest!

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Special thanks to the employees of Arnold Family Farms for their hospitality and patience with my endless questions.

Related Posts on Commercial Farming:

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

18 thoughts on “Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat

  1. It is fascinating isn’t it, thanks for the info. One step further in the search for where our food comes from

  2. Judy this was fascinating! Thanks for all the great photos. I’m going to use the photos of the wheat in our atrium for the parable of the grain, if that’s alright!

  3. You’re like Balki’s wife on TAXI…she was played by Carol Kane…whose favorite line was: “This is my new best friend !”. Well, the farmers can now say that about YOU !!

    1. Hahaha! I hope so, Dolores. The farmers I have met in KY have been so “down to Earth” and happy to share their knowledge about farming. Hope you are feeling better every day. xoxoxoJudy

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