Suddenly, in the heart of July, the wheat has turned it’s signature amber color, the barley and spring wheat are not far behind and it’s harvest time. Harvest has long been my favorite time of year. Harvest time brings back so many memories of my family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, my siblings, and our assorted harvest help all together in the heart of the summer. Dinner in the fields. Naps on the floor of the old John Deere 105s. Riding with my cousins on top of the little farm trucks loaded with wheat on the way to the grain bins in the yard. Sitting high on top of those trucks as the wheat is dumped into the bins, a notoriously dangerous practice but a common one for most farm kids who grew up any time before 2000.
I have too many vivid memories of harvest to even count. If anything was my play ground when I was younger – it was the harvest field. Any time I think of Madonna’s This Used to be My Playground scenes of harvest run through my mind. I remember curling up on the floor of my Aunt’s combine and taking a nap. The huge blue and white lunch box that my mom made my two brothers and I share. The old campers we used to bring dinner to the fields. Mid afternoon naps on the bench seats of old farm trucks. The taste of a warm Pepsi will forever remind me of harvest. The feeling of standing in the old farm trucks on top of a pile of wheat and “showering” underneath the unload auger as a combine emptied wheat into the truck. ** Looking back I have no idea who in their right mind takes a “shower” under an unload auger but apparently farm kids under the age of 13 are immune to the constant itching of wheat dust. **
I looked forward to harvest from the minute school got out. When it finally arrived and those hot harvest days faded into the sunset we would drive home past the bare stubble fields as I silently counted the remaining acres (or general fields because I did not know the acreage at that age) in my head, distraught at the speed at which harvest was slipping away. Every day that passed meant we were a day closer to finishing. I considered stubble fields to be the ugliest site on the farm. The amber waves of grain had disappeared.
Now that I am older and understand the full weight of a harvest workload – there are few sights more beautiful than a bare stubble field. I count down the acres we have left and I get slightly (Travis will probably say more than slightly) grumpy if we are not rolling through the acres efficiently enough. I have learned to love every second of harvest while also trying to get through those seconds as fast as humanly possible. There is no reason to stretch out harvest any longer than necessary.
It is actually not uncommon for farmers to have a serious love/hate relationship with harvest. It is long, hot (at least for our cereal grain harvests in the middle of July and beginning of August), mentally and physically exhausting. It is difficult to explain the stress of harvest and the constant stream of questions/thoughts that run through a farmer’s mind. The block quote below should be read as fast as you can and almost in a single breath – and that is about how it feels for many farmers to sit on a combine. All those questions can run through our minds in the span of a matter of minutes.
Is the crop yielding what it should? Is the quality good enough? Are we going to get done before some weather disaster strikes? Has that other field 4 miles away fallen over yet from sawfly damage? Should we run over their and harvest it? Is the yield and the price combined actually enough to make money? The fall fertilizer prices came out – they need to know how many ton we want? Who asks farmers in the middle of harvest how much fertilizer we want for next year? Can’t they wait to ask about a six figure expense? Do we have enough bin space? What did the market do today? What are the protein spreads? Are we segregating our protein properly? What’s the moisture? Can our dryers dry it out? Is the combine set properly? Are we leaving too much grain behind? Maybe I’ll turn up the fan speed or slow down the rotor to clean it up. Better get out and check behind the machine and make sure everything is okay ….
This constant stream of thought is often the top reason farmers do not like to sit on the combine. It stresses them out. There is too much to think about. Luckily I am not one of those farmers. Don’t get me wrong – I stress about most of those things – however I am somehow able to tune out all of those questions when I sit down in the combine seat. My husband will tell you he has threatened to disable to yield monitor, so I am not completely immune from the stresses of the combine cab, but the friendly confines of that cab is one of the places I am happiest. It is difficult to describe how the cab of a piece of iron is one of the happiest places on earth – but it is. That reason alone is probably one of the reasons I am a farmer.
I am at home, the cab of that combine is my sanctuary, and it is harvest time.
We are facing our biggest cereal grain harvest ever this year. We will be rolling through 2300 acres of winter wheat, 500 acres of barley, and roughly 600 acres of spring wheat. It will be a marathon harvest. The innocence of my childhood harvest dreams has long been shattered by long hours, days that blend together in a blur, and the stress of being an owner/operator however my love of harvest has never changed. Few people have said it better than Luke Bryan: “It’s harvest time in this little town, time to bring it all in, pay the loans down, fill our diesel tanks up, and make another round …”