I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon aboard a combine harvester, gathering in this year's harvest of Marc Vanoverschelde's organic wheat crop in the rolling farmland of Belgium's Luxembourg province, close to the French border. A few week's ago, I photographed the many varieties of wheat and rye in Marc's experimental plots. Now the wheat in the main fields was ripe, and the race was on to get it in before the threatened rain arrived. (In fact, it never did.)
Riding in a combine harvester is a bit like sailing in a small and very noisy trawler boat – you roll unsteadily through a sea of wheat, unable to see the bottom. The difference, of course, is that instead of pulling a net, this boat pushes a giant hair-clipper along the ground ahead of it, swallowing everything it cuts down, storing the grain and shitting everything else out behind.
At the controls, Marc was extraordinarily attentive to every movement and every noise. From time to time we stopped so that he could climb down to check the grain hopper or dislodge a clump of wheat straw that was choking the intake. Marc's son Rémy came with a tractor to empty the grain from the harvester and take it back to the farm. Later, his friend Francis, who had been bailing straw in another field, came to see how Marc was getting on.
Now I just need to spend a couple of hours cleaning the dust from my cameras.