The Dry Lake Farms partnership was formed in early 2010, and marked a new chapter for Vulgamore Family Farms. Partners include Pat Heim, area producer Mike Harkness and Brian, Myles and Larry Vulgamore. The formation of Dry Lake Farms joined two operations of similar dedication to successful farming, and opened the door to many new opportunities to all involved.
The name “Dry Lake Farms” originated in the location of the Harkness farm. Much of the farm’s acreage, including the original homestead, is in the area of Dry Lake, a very large playa of approximately 3 miles in length and located in eastern Scott County. Playas are depressions in the plains that fill with water during times of precipitation and considered one of the most vital water resources for wildlife in the High Plains.
Dry Lake in May 2010
The Harkness history
Much like Vulgamore Family Farms, the Harkness family has a long history in Western Kansas agriculture. The legacy began with Brannon Harkness, a baker who lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the 1920s. Seeing no future in his culinary career and tiring of city life, Brannon and his wife, Reba, packed up and moved out to Scott County, Kansas in search of a new beginning. They found it on three quarters of land with a house that had been repossessed by the bank.
The original Harkness farm in 1927
With no previous farming experience, it was a true leap of faith for Brannon. He immediately began meeting with local producers to collect as much advice and information on farming techniques as he could. He soon established a small cow herd of less than a dozen cows and more than one hundred chickens, and raised wheat and barley to feed them.
Brannon’s ambition began to pay off, and the farm grew. Reba and Brannon had five children - five girls and a boy. All of the children were actively involved on the farm, but it was the boy, Robert (a.k.a. “Bob“- born in 1930), who would go on to join his father on the farm after finishing high school in 1949. By that time, the total acres Brannon was farming had reached more than 2,000.
Harvesting wheat on the Harkness farm in 1938
Reba and Brannon Harkness (1935)
Reba and children with the family cow (late-1930s)
In the mid-1950s, the pair’s operation, formally known as BB & Son, began purchasing land and growing their operation even more. Their cow herd reached a total of 75-100 head. They started irrigating select parcels in the 1960s and continued to look for new opportunities for their farm.
Such an opportunity would come about in the 1970s, as Bob began taking over the farm from his father. Bob and his wife, Deloras, had a daughter and two sons, and one of those sons, Mike, returned to the family farm in 1972. Soon after, Bob and Mike built a 3,500-head capacity feed yard and launched a cattle feeding operation that would eventually grow large enough to include commercial feeding.
Robert playing as a baby on the Harkness farm (1933)
Robert "Bob" Harkness (1948)
"BB" (Brannon) and son, Robert working the fields (circa 1939)
As they continued to expand, Mike and Bob placed an increasing focus on their crop production techniques. At the time, the Harknesses were practicing the wheat-fallow-wheat rotation typical to the area. However, they soon adopted an innovative wheat-fallow-milo/corn rotation in an effort to achieve greater production from their fields. They also left stubble on their fields for moisture conservation long before that practice was commonplace.
In the 1980s, Mike took a strong interest in the possibilities of applying chemical herbicides. One of the first producers in the area to undertake spraying, Mike soon found that it was highly advantageous in Western Kansas farming conditions and adopted it broadly across the farm. He was seen as an area expert in the technique and was often requested to speak at presentations and meetings into the 1990s as chemical application became widely practiced by farmers across the region.
Mike began purchasing additional acreage in the 1980s, and the farm grew in size from the approximately 3,000 acres when he joined the operation to the 10,000 acres of its current state. Mike is married to Kay and has four children. Bob and Mike continued to farm together through to 2010, as Bob transitioned to retirement.
Bob and Mike Harkness on their commercial feeding operation
Mike with his sprayer in 2010
The Harkness family, May 2010 (Bob - back row, center; Mike 2nd row, center)
The Dry Lake Farms partnership represents another new beginning for the farm as it brings on new individuals and new dreams, while ensuring that nearly 90 years of history and hard work continue to flourish into the future.