Here is another shot of this massive John Deere combine working to harvest wheat near Altus, Oklahoma. As I mentioned yesterday, I had to guess at where the combine was going to be and hope I was in the correct spot and prefocus my Toyo VX-125 on the spot I thought the operator would drive the combine. I missed just a bit but still liked this shot.
Oklahoma is an agricultural state and wheat is the number one cash crop grown in Oklahoma. Our sweeping western plains is perfect for growing this golden grain, and at harvest time, the prairie is alive with combines working hard to harvest the bountiful crops. I was in Alva working on a story about the wheat harvest – shooting digital like normal. I couldn’t resist setting up my Toyo VX-125 and capturing a harvest picture on Kodak TMAX-100 film. This proved much harder than I anticipated since the combines don’t stop for anyone and I had to prefocus and basically guess when the combine would fill my frame. I knew this combine was going to finish this row of wheat and I could pre-focus my 4×5 on the end of the row and get a decent photo of the machine at work. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the combine operator to head my way and then not get run over.
April was a good month for me with my friends at Oklahoma Living Magazine. Not only did I shoot the cover this month, but also wrote and photographed the feature story about grain elevators in Oklahoma. The cover photo features Brandon Schroeder, a 4th generation grain elevator operator in El Reno, Oklahoma. He was very helpful in helping me with the story and allowing me to photograph his elevator. My friend Matthew Webb did the grain elevator illustration for this story.
Here are a few outtakes from the story.
Love grass is considered a weed by many farmers, but to Loren and Steve Pollard, it is a small but important part of their diversified agriculture operations.
Most farmers try to eradicate love grass from their fields. This tall grass is native to the prairie states. Yet unlike the native buffalo herds who thrive on this native plant, domestic livestock shun this tough, wiry plant. Yet the Pollards, who farm over twenty sections of land around Dover, Crescent, Hennessy and Kingfisher, Oklahoma, love grass seed has become a valued cash crop that has allowed Loren and now his son Steve to expand their operations to cover well over 20 sections of land in central Oklahoma.
“Love grass seed is very hard to grow” explains Steve. “We have to burn it in late March. We pay the Kingfisher Fire Department to come out and help us do a controlled burn. Harvesting time is very critical. We only have a couple of days to get the seed in so we have to monitor the crop very closely.” Like many crops, some years the Pollards are unable to harvest love grass seed. And unlike food crops such as wheat and soybeans, crop insurance is unavailable for love grass.
“The market for love grass seed is small but steady and profitable” explains Loren. “A lot of our seed goes overseas, and some goes to states such as Alabama and Louisiana and is used for road building projects.”
I love harvest time in Oklahoma. The weather is just warming up nicely, the huge expanses of wind-blown wheat fields are turning a golden yellow, and farmers are in a big time crunch to get the harvest completed before wind, rain and weather destroy the crop. Harvest is a time of late all nighters, farmers meeting in the early morning at the co-op to discuss prices and crop yields, huge, expensive pieces of machinery running all day and night, kids working alongside parents, all to get the fruits of their labor out of the field and into the elevator.
This year I covered a story on the canola harvest in Oklahoma. This spring I ran across these huge fields of yellow flowers and wondered what they could be. A little Google research told me they were canola plants, which I didn’t know we raised here in Oklahoma. I did a bit more investigating and proposed a story on canola farming to Oklahoma Living Magazine, which picked up the story to run next spring. So this harvest season I went out to take pictures of the canola harvest but can’t use those pictures on my blog until next year after they run for the upcoming story.
I still wanted some harvest pictures for my portfolio so I called up my farming friend Steve Pollard, who along with his dad Loren farms 20 sections of land around Kingfisher. I only had one evening free to photograph their harvest so run up on a Friday afternoon to catch the combines at work. This year the Pollard’s contracted their wheat harvest to custom cutters, who came in with huge combines with 40′ headers. This one combine made short work of the field I was on. Pollard had them cutting seed wheat for use as planting seed for the following year.
Loren told me that Steve was busy harvesting their love grass seed field on an older combine. The Pollards only grow about 200 acres of love grass, and Loren said it was very difficult to grow and harvest the seed, but it usually was a very profitable crop for them. So I also drove over to photograph Steve Pollard as he harvested love grass seed. This was quite a contrast to the computerized combine of the custom cutter – everything on this combine was manual control. But with only 200 or so acres to combine this wasn’t such a big deal compared to the thousands of acres of wheat that needed harvesting.