What’s your name? Sean Harkness
I have been a farmer since: Full time farming since 2005. I’ve helped out on our farm and other farms since I was 13.
I’ve been a Farm At Hand user since: I think 2014.
Where do you farm? Towner, CO
Here’s a picture of my farm
What do you grow? We grow hard red & white winter wheat, sunflowers, grain sorghum (milo), proso millet, and dryland corn (when we are feeling lucky).
How did you get into farming? Through family. My paternal grandpa bought some farm ground around Towner, CO after he got out of the Marines after WWII. He expanded it some, then passed it onto my dad, who is working with me on doing the same. My wife’s family also farms locally. Her dad gave me and his son the opportunity to farm some ground on our own to see if we really wanted to farm or just be employed on a farm. It was a wonderful experience and very eye opening to all the details that go into farming.
What do you love about farming? I love being able to see God’s handywork on a daily basis. Everyone can see it no matter their profession, but it seems extra special to me as a farmer.
Tell us a little bit about why you became a farmer and who you farm with. I honestely didn’t think I would become a farmer. In high school I thought I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but after doing some student teacher work in college I gave that up. So I switched to a general business degree not knowing what I would do. Over the course of a few summers working on the farm, a desire built up in me to want to farm and do nothing else. By the end of my third year in college, my oldest brother left the farm to do something else. Dad told me there was an opening if I wanted it. I came back to work with dad and never went back to college. I’ve been farming full time with my dad now going on ten years. He’s tried his best to run me off or see if I would rather go back to college but I just kept telling him that on the farm is where I want to be. I also farm a smaller farm with my brother-in-law. It’s a farm that we setup to be a starter farm to get hands on experience, but is growing a little and really helping to open doors for us in the custom farming market.
What’s one of your favourite moments when you’re out in the fields? One memorable 4th of July:
Since we summer fallow our winter wheat acres it means there is quite the road ahead to get to harvest the next summer. When we fallow we take a field and do not grow anything on it from harvest the previous fall until planting time in the current years fall. We try to keep it weed free all season long, which ties up acres essentially doing nothing and incurs expenses on those acres that will not see a payback until the next year.
We fallow mainly due to rainfall or lack thereof. By not growing anything on those acres you can “rest” and “bank” the moisture in the soil to hopefully be of better use to the crop when it gets planted. So after 19 months of expenses incurring and praying you don’t get hailed out, insect damage, wheat viral diseases, rust (yes plants can rust, which inhibits photosynthesis & can end up killing the plant), & electric winds in the spring that can kill the wheat; and praying that you do get timely rains and crop protection, July rolls around and you are staring at a beautiful field of golden wheat.
When we are blessed to harvest our winter wheat, which can be a challenge, it is by far one of the most memorable moments out in the field.
A breeze blows across the field making the wheat wave just like the ocean does. It just shimmers before your eyes in all its God given beauty. Then you pull into the field with the lead combine to open up the field for the rest of the crew. The wheat flows almost like liquid gold along the header as it feeds it into the combine. After a few yards into the field the wheat starts to “pour like rain” into the grain tank. Behind the combine all that is left is thousands of little golden straw standing straight up giving stark contrast to the uncut wheat next to it.
Now picture harvesting this all on the 4th of July. You spend all day long going around and around the wheat field harvesting the golden sea. Nighttime descends and off in the distance to the east you see the fireworks first. Then shortly thereafter you see some more fireworks a little closer and finally you see another show or two to the west before the sky is silent again. After the field is done and the workday is coming to a close you realize just how special you are to be able to be a part of something so big and grandeur as helping to provide the main ingredient for food that feeds the world. You realize it doesn’t matter the size of your farm, you are still helping to feed the world and God has given you the gift to make it happen. To make this even better I spent the day doing this with my family and listening to the Colorado Rockies make a huge come from behind win against the Miami Marlins on July 4, 2008.
Has technology changed the way you farm? How so? Very much so. For one we can farm in more adverse conditions thanks to autosteer. Sometimes the wind is blowing so bad you can’t see more than a few feet in front of the tractor or combine.
On the sprayer we use swath control or help us minimize our herbicide costs and overlap. The GPS senses when you enter a space you previously sprayed and then starts to turn off segments of the boom to reduce overlap and costs. We have a similar setup on our rowcrop planter to help with reducing seed overlap. With autosteer we are more productive over the whole field by having our passes matchup exactly with the last pass so we don’t overwork or leave a gap in the field.
What is your biggest challenge this growing season? It’s really a continuous problem and that’s the weather. We have zero control over it and right now we’re in a multi-year drought that has impacted our community and those around us greatly. You don’t always get a crop and some of the crops you do get are below average which makes you tighten your belt quite a bit.
Can you share with us what you think our biggest challenge in Ag right now? I would say it’s an image issue. I think a lot of city dwellers think that farming is easy, you plant it, harvest it, and laugh all the way to the bank. If you happen to be an animal owner, you get attacked for being cruel and mean. City people look at PETA and the news and just believe almost everything they put out there. They don’t talk to farmers or ranchers, just assume food comes from the back of the grocery store and animals are abused.
Do you think the way we farm and produce food will change in the next 10 years? If yes, how? I think there will be some innovations. Operator safety is always improving, with equipment being more and more run by software it wouldn’t surprise me if more functions get automated. Seed and chemical companies are always looking to get more out of their products as well.
If there is one thing you want the general population to know about farming, what would that be? Farmers and livestock producers are not your enemy. If you are curious about what we do the best thing to do is ask. There are quite a few farmers that would gladly spend some time talking to you about what they do and why they do it.
Where can we find you online?