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A combine harvesting wheat

Student experiences wheat harvest in the Pacific Northwest

Taylor Petrusha, an environmental science student, spent her summer far from Gainesville. She had an internship that allowed her to experience what the wheat harvest is like in LaCrosse, Wash. Taylor landed the assignment through a family friend. He offered her the opportunity to learn and work for his family farm – JR Heaton Ranch.

female standing in wheat field

Taylor Petrusha’s gator chomp in the wheat fields of eastern Washington. (photo provided)

“The Heaton’s have been farming the hills of Washington since the late 1800s,” Taylor said. “They started their farm with 600 acres and will continue their expansion as they compete with corporate farms.”

Spending June, July, and August at the Heaton Ranch aligned with the entire wheat harvest.

“They have about 12,000 acres in land and participate in a two-year crop rotation plan with some land dedicated to pasture,” Taylor said. “This year we harvested about 4000 acres of land.”

The ranch is about 60 miles south of Spokane. Taylor said they harvested 4,000 acres during her internship using two large combines and two bank-out wagons. The largest of the wagons holds 875 bushels of wheat. The standard weight per bushel for agricultural commodities is 60 pounds. That means the largest bank-out holds roughly 26 tons of grain.

Life Skills

Taylor says the experience is like none she has ever had, providing her invaluable life skills. She gave a steer a haircut, learned the basics of welding, and operated large farm machinery.

female working on farm combine

Taylor Petrusha greasing the grease zerks on the header of the combine so it runs smoothly. (photo provided)

“The skills needed to operate the combines and tractors in the hills of Washington was not what I expected,” Taylor added. “You need a lifetime of experience to really understand how to farm the terrain.”

The opportunity also gave Taylor a new understanding and appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to agricultural production.

“It is a hard job, no doubt, but when you love what you do it’s a way of life,” she said.

Exploring Options

So, what made an environmental science student want to do an internship at a wheat farm? Taylor said she was exploring her options as she decides on a career path.

Two combines harvesting wheat into a wagon

Harvesting wheat at the JR Heaton Ranch in LaCrosse, WA. (photo provided)

“I loved everything about wheat farming, but in the end, I was able to conclude my passion lies with the ornamental side of horticulture,” she explained.

Taylor will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in spring 2021 and is applying to UF’s Environmental Science & Horticulture Master’s Program. She plans to pursue a career in growing operations for an ornamental plant nursery.