PULLMAN, Wash. – It didn’t matter that the mercury refused to budge from near 100 degrees in the early half of the week preceding the start of fall semester. Harvest had begun at Spillman Agronomy Farm just outside of Pullman. WSU staff and students climbed into dusty trucks, piled onto mammoth combines and waded between rows of wheat and barley test plots to bring in the seed under the scorching sun.
Probably the luckiest pair of workers during the heat wave was John Kuehner, WSU scientific assistant, and his summer help, University of Idaho student Alec Wyland. Though crammed in like sardines, they were in the air-conditioned cab of Spillman’s newest and more intriguing harvesting machine, the Zürn 150 plot combine. One quarter the size of a regular combine, the Zürn looked more like a Tonka toy in the wheat plots.
In Spillman’s Sheaf Building, another oasis from the overhead sun, staff and students processed grain harvested from locations around the state as part of WSU’s winter wheat, spring wheat and spring barley breeding programs, said Gary Shelton, WSU research tech supervisor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.
John Kuhn, a WSU junior in agricultural biotechnology, cleaned grain. Austin Garza, a WSU sophomore in accounting, and Jon Kuehner, a WSU freshman in secondary history education and son of Zürn driver John Kuehner, poured grain into sample bags. The bags were weighed and tested for protein content and kernel hardness by Wycliffe Sakwa, a technician in the spring wheat program.
The tests are conducted to see which lines performed well and which didn’t, Shelton said. Lines that are kept go to the Western Wheat Quality Lab on the Pullman campus to be evaluated for milling and baking characteristics. Depending on how they’re rated, the grains could end up as the main ingredient in cookies or a loaf of bread. Successful lines will be advanced in the breeding program and planted again.
Ending the week, student workers, research associates and graduate students of Arron Carter, WSU’s winter wheat breeder, harvested test plots by hand, serpentining down the rows with twine and hand scythes, cutting wheat stalks and bundling them to be threshed later. Carter’s helpers included Ivy Shipley, Ryan Higginbotham, Austin Garza, Kendra Jernigan, Josh DeMacon and Caleb Squires.
Harvest time at Spillman, which continues for another two weeks, would be a whole lot harder without the help of student workers, Shelton said.
“Without their assistance we would be in trouble,” he said. “There is so much work to be done during the growing season. The few staff on each program could not keep up without their help. They are without a doubt the backbone of each program.”