MOORHEAD - It's been a year of change for Harmen Tande, 64, and his son, Ashten, 10, on the farm, northeast of Moorhead.
"It's just the two of us," Harmen tells a visitor during wheat harvest. Eventually, he elaborates that his wife, Kristi, died April 3 at age 55 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. So now it's a father-son duo on the farm where the Tandes have been harvesting wheat since 1946.
The harvest provides a special bright spot and a ritual that keeps their eyes on brighter days ahead.
One dim day
Not all days will be bright, of course.
Case in point: On Aug. 21, Harmen and Ashten wanted to resume harvest after a weekend of light rain, but the day wasn't warming up very fast or drying out as expected. Harmen only half-jokes that it was the solar eclipse that kept him out of the field.
"Lack of sunlight," Harmen says. "It was a couple of hours from the beginning of the eclipse. And it was also cloudy and high humidity, so we couldn't go yet."
No, he's never had to wait for an eclipse before.
"It's many years since we had an eclipse like that. I think it was 1918, I'd read someplace," he says.
On Aug. 23, the Tande harvest resumed. They started at noon and quit at about 8 p.m., as the evening damp set in. Wheat is best harvested at 13.5 percent moisture or less for storage. He says he could just feel it when the combine engine started to labor as the dew set in.
This year's wheat is yielding in the mid-60 bushel range. Typically, he's shooting for 75 to 80 bushels.
Harmen has been a producer of registered seed from foundation seed from the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association for more than 20 years. He had finished harvesting the seed wheat about Aug. 10, but the later fields were commercial wheat.
Back in style
The Tandes are about on-schedule with the spring wheat harvest for the region.
Minnesota's crop was 42 percent harvested, falling a bit behind the 63 percent five-year average for this date, as of the Aug. 20 report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Drought-affected North Dakota was 52 percent harvested with the crop, ahead of the 45 percent five-year average. South Dakota was 88 percent harvested, just ahead of its five-year average, and Montana's spring wheat was 66 percent harvested compared to a 45 percent average.
The last few years haven't been as good for selling wheat seed, because everyone has wanted to raise more corn and soybeans, Harmen says.
"Wheat has kind of gone out of style. There isn't as much demand for (wheat) varieties. But it's a way to add a little value if I can. We have a smaller farming operation so we try to have little niches here," he says.
The relative strength in the wheat market due to the drought farther west has been a pleasant surprise.
"You try and forward-contract some. But now the price has come down some. It'll bounce around," he says.
Tande sold some of his wheat for $7.20 per bushel.
"Didn't sell enough, should have sold all of it," he says, smiling a smile that indicates mind games are part of farming. "It's still around $6. That's still a good price. A year ago it was hard to get more than $4.30. And if you have a fair yield, that's not too bad."
Harmen sets his combine to drop straw so that it can be baled.
"There's always a market for straw in small square bales," he says. "People want them for displays, or have animals and want a few for bedding."
Besides wheat, the Tandes produced corn, soybeans and some alfalfa - about 750 acres in all.
The corn looks nice and the soybeans look exceptional, so those harvests are yet to come. "Generally, in the Red River Valley, we do better when it's dry, because the plants send the roots down in search of moisture," he says. "Of course they can tap into more nutrients that are deeper into the soil. And our clay soils tend to hold the moisture pretty good. In wetter years, the clay soils have drainage problems, and the crops can have fungus problems."
Ashten takes it all in, enjoying the end of a day with Dad.
"It's really nice helping my dad, and it's kind of cool to see how the farming is done, what we do with our crops," he says. After combining, he finishes up a few chores, including tending a small flock of laying hens. And he enthuses that he recently learned to drive the utility task vehicle on the field roads.
He's looking forward to Sept. 5, when he starts fifth grade in the brand new Horizon West Middle School. And he's seeing even brighter days, further ahead: "I want to be a farmer," he says. "Just like my dad."