Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the ninth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.
Start at the beginning!
—Depending on the year— Harvest is likely getting underway this month! For many farmers, this is their favorite time of the year — It can also be the most stressful! Many farmers work long hours and are managing multiple pieces of expensive equipment. There’s little time for anything else during the heat of harvest! To begin, let’s talk about Early Harvest:
This year’s crop:
- Begin Harvest! – Once the corn dries down enough, it’s time to start picking! But let’s back up a minute and talk about “dry enough”… and other hiccups along the way.
- When to Begin – The reason farmers let the corn stand out in the field until is turns brown and dies is because they’re waiting for the kernels to dry out before harvesting. (This is how that signature dent gets into field corn). Leading up to harvest, a farmer might pick a few ears of corn out of his various fields, shell it into a bucket (take all the kernels off the cob) and take it to the local elevator to test is moisture content. The ideal moisture is 15-17%. If it gets drier than that it will be lighter and will take more kernels to equal 1 bushel (56 pounds) of corn. It also has a higher likelihood of cracking and the farmer could get docked some money for cracked corn. If it’s wetter than the elevator wants it, it will need to be dried down to the appropriate moisture to keep it from rotting in the storage bins. Drying corn requires a grain dryer, bins, and fuel (propane or natural gas) to heat the corn and evaporate the moisture out of it. Since this set-up costs money, the wetter the corn, the more the farmer will have to pay to dry it. So as you can see, there’s a slim time-frame for ideal picking. I would venture to say that most farmers begin harvest when the corn is around 25% moisture. They’re antsy to get started as it is, plus, depending on the number of acres they farm, they can’t wait too long or they might be dealing with overly dry corn later in the fall.
- Equipment calibration – Last month the farmer spent some time calibrating his combine and performing maintenance inspections on his semis, grain trucks, and other equipment, but the beginning of harvest can be a slow start. You can’t always get things adjusted quite right until you’re actually in the field to see what you’re dealing with. Sometimes this takes a lot of adjustments. Other times you get it right from the get-go.
- Manage Break-Downs – With all those moving parts there are bound to be breakdowns during harvest. Often times, farmers will bring the parts and tools right out to the field to repair the machine. In extreme cases, a repair guy from the local implement dealership will need to come out to do the repair, but this will almost certainly result in additional lost time and of course an added expense. Another frustrating scenario is when the dealership doesn’t have the part you need in stock. Sometimes they can get ahold of one in a matter of hours, but other times, ordering it in from another store can take a day or two to arrive. As a farm-wife, something I find oddly nostalgic and unique to the farming way of life, is that my husband can “call in” the part he needs from the implement dealership, they’ll put it on his tab and have it ready (hopefully), so I can run to town to pick it up and deliver it out to the field. Just like ordering groceries from Nels on Little House on the Prairie!
Let’s talk about farm wives and family a minute…
First and foremost, just as every farm operates differently, every farm wife takes on a different role during harvest. I think it’s safe to say that every spouse, child, or sibling to the Principal Operator – who has a vested interest in the farm – knows their place during the busiest time of the year. Level of involvement highly depends on age, ability, and availability of each individual.
- Some wives operate the combine while the farmer runs trucks to the bins.
- Some run the grain cart, which drives alongside the combine so the combine can empty its grain. When the cart’s full, she drives it over to the semi, empties, and drives back out alongside the combine so it never has to stop picking.
- Some wives prefer to stay out of the fields and will keep on top of book work, bills and household responsibilities.
- Meals are an important part of harvest. A lot of farmers wouldn’t eat a hot meal for weeks if it weren’t for their wife driving it out to the field for them.
- They’re often at the beck and call for parts runs and rides when it’s time to shuffle machinery from one field to an another.
- Farm kids can do many of these jobs as well – including operating heavy farm machinery – even on public property.
Point being, harvest is a crucial time of the year and the way the farm family bans together to “git-r-dun” is not something that every American family can attest to.
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