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Father, son turn toward brighter days as they harvest crops outside Moorhead

Harmen Tande, 64, and his son, Ashten, 10, continue alone this year after the death of their wife and mother this past April. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service1 / 11
Harmen Tande, who raises registered spring wheat seed and commercial spring wheat, hand-threshes a wheat head to explain to his son, Ashten, how the combine crushes kernels and separates the chaff with air. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service2 / 11
Harmen Tande and his son, Ashten, cut their commercial wheat crop near Moorhead, Minn., on Aug. 22 after completing their wheat seed crop on Aug. 10. Yields have been good and prices surprisingly strong, fed in part by concerns about drought farther west. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service3 / 11
Harmen Tande and his son, Ashten, 10, eye the auger placing on the grain cart as they bring in a relatively strong 2017 hard red spring wheat crop on Aug. 22. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service4 / 11
Harmen Tande and his son, Ashten, 10, eye the auger placing on the grain cart as they bring in a relatively strong 2017 hard red spring wheat crop on Aug. 22. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service5 / 11
The Bolle hard red wheat variety was released by the University of Minnesota two years ago and is known for its good yield and strong proteins, in the 15 percent range and above. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service6 / 11
The spring wheat harvest has been good, at about 60 bushels per acre this year, east of Moorhead, Minn., but not the 75- to 80-bushel crop they sometimes get. Dry weather generally bodes well for crops in the Red River Valley clay, says Harmen Tande, who raises registered wheat seed and commercial wheat. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service7 / 11
Harmen Tande, a spring wheat farmer at Moorhead, Minn., drops wheat straw (right) that he'll bale into square bales for local livestock bedding and buyers of bales for decorative purposes. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service8 / 11
"Tayler," the Tande family farm dog, is ever-present during the spring wheat harvest. The family took him in and doctored him to health two years ago when someone discarded along the road outside of Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service9 / 11
The spring wheat harvest has been good, at about 60 bushels per acre this year, east of Moorhead, Minn., but not the 75- to 80-bushel crop they sometimes get. Dry weather generally bodes well for crops in the Red River Valley clay, says Harmen Tande, who raises registered wheat seed and commercial wheat. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service10 / 11
Harmen Tande, 64, and his son, Ashten, 10, continue alone this year after the death of their wife and mother this past April. Photo taken Aug. 22, 2017, in rural Moorhead, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service11 / 11

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."

Looking ahead

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."

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