Sunday, November 18, 2007

Custom Harvesting

One of the givens out here on the prairie is when harvest arrives, there is a lot of ground to cover and not a big window of opportunity to get it in successfully. If you are a smaller farmer, having the necessary equipment is expensive, plus finding the manpower to run it all is tough as well. Many soldier on with a single older combine and some old trucks, but if the weather doesn't cooperate, the crop can be destroyed or reduced in value - rain can cause wheat to bleach or sprout in the head, or hail can destroy the crop.

So, for years, the nomads of the prairie have been the custom harvesters. They own or lease several combines and trucks capable of carrying the crop away, and moving the combines to the next customer. Some have grain carts and tractors, so the combines don't have to quit cutting to dump their loads of grain. The tractor tows a grain cart to the combine, and the combine "dumps on the go." The grain cart can go dump the crop on a truck while the combine keeps cutting. It is a general rule of thumb that a grain cart can be "worth" a combine when you have two or more combines going at once.

These gypsies start in the south - Texas or Oklahoma - wherever wheat is grown, and work their way north to Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and even Canada. There are a lot of Canadians in the business as well. It isn't always wheat in the northern states, sometimes it is barley and other specialty crops. Some quit harvesting wheat in time to come back to Kansas and catch the fall harvest - milo, corn and soybeans. Some go to Colorado west of Walsenburg to cut for the beer companies - hops and so on. Anywhere there is a crop to be cut, custom harvesters will no doubt show up.

I've sure done my share of harvesting over the years. I've done a lot of "dumping on the go" whether it was from a combine, a tractor pulling a grain cart, or even taking the truck out into the field to catch a combine. The gentleman I was employed by for ten years is a custom harvester. I went with him one year, his brother one year, and a different family earlier in my resume. We started in Oklahoma and ended up in Montana.

Most custom harvesters rely on students for their labor force as well, so when school starts in the fall, they are pretty well done for the year.

One of my neighbor's sons "went on harvest" this year. He's a great kid who is growing into a fine young man. His family is pretty much "old school" as far as raising kids and farming - the kids all work, and were home schooled for several years as well. Joe is a tall, lanky redhead, laid back and quiet, but don't let that fool you. He is passionate about things mechanical. At the moment, he's enrolled at Wyotech, which is a very well regarded and tough school for aspiring mechanics. He'll be able to write his own ticket when he's through - his services will be in demand wherever he wants to go and whatever field he chooses. Look out, he might be fixing your Beemer and living next door to you in that expensive development.

I was really surprised his father let him go on harvest this year - but I think his parents were cutting the apron strings a bit. I am extremely fortunate to have neighbors like this - someday I'll tell you about another set of neighbors who really take care of me. At any rate, the subject of this post was about custom harvesters. Joe took some pictures and posted them to Facebook. If you are interested at all in what harvest looks like, go and check it out. Be sure and read his captions - his explanations are what makes this album.

Just so you know, I'm pretty proud of this young man.


ptg said...

Interesting photo album. It makes me itchy just to look at them. Your description of the havest reminded me of my first girl friend. She also had "a lot of ground to cover and not a big window of opportunity to get it in successfully".

Sezme said...

I enjoyed the pictures. I watched something about the harvesters that travel from OK-northward. I wish I could remember where I saw it.

Your neighbor seems like a nice kid.

Jeffro said...

ptg, that is so bad it's good. Heh.

Bob's Blog said...

I especially liked your paragraph about him fixing the beemer and living next door. That is very true in Golden, where we formerly lived, and still own a home that we rent to students at the Colorado School of Mines. The biggest homes, high up on the mesas, are lived in by plumbers and mechanics.

Anonymous said...

H.S. I'm famous!! Great post; people should know what goes into the bread and what not thats on their store's shelves. I really appreciate your compliments Jeff!!

OneCowgirl said...

Thanks for the education on custom harvesters....