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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harvest for the World: Thumbs up for the American Farmer

Here in Ohio, the corn and bean crops are being harvested. It's pretty much the beginning of the harvest for corn and the farmers are waiting for the fields and crop to dry out from recent rains.

In Montana, harvest is winding up. Winter wheat crops have been in for a while and the barley and camelina (a member of the mustard family grown for oil, potentially for fuel) and other lesser crops are probably pretty much in.

In normal years, my brother would still be struggling to get his crop in . While this year was a bumper crop, the first after 10 years of drought and sub-normal crops, he managed to hire a cutting crew and finished much earlier than usual.

This is one of his older combines with Mark Benjamin, my brother's right hand hired man, at the wheel giving the thumbs up.
Harvest with the custom cutting crew, a group of men and machinery who go from farm to farm hiring out with their machinery to harvest is a wonder to watch. In the fields of gold, great green machinery perform a ballet as the grain cart goes to the combine which offloads from their hopper directly into the grain cart without stopping or going back to where the truck is waiting. A good grain cart driver is hard to find. They have to be extremely attentive and remember what pattern they have done. The grain cart can take three combine loads before going back to the shipping truck. The driver here was Irish and was very good. Whenever the combine operator needed him, he was there and driving in perfect tandem. He then wheeled off and went to the next combine.

Here, one of my brother's combines is at the grain truck which has another wagon called a "pup" behind it filling the pup, while John the Irishman is offloading the grain cart into the main load of the grain truck.

The grain trucks when full lumber off the hill and go to the granary. Most farms have some bins scattered out through the farm. In this year, the harvest was so large that bin space was being rented as quickly as people could contract it.

This is one of the granaries. In most cases, the bins have great stirring mechanisms to keep the grain moved around so that spoilage is kept to a minimum. Many have dryers in them as well, but that wasn't (and isn't) always the case.

Farmers take the grain to the broker or bin operator and a sample is taken. They look for moisture content (neither to high or too low) and for foreign matter (weed seeds, name it). The grain is docked (discounted) based on the findings. Sometimes it is a real pain. I remember one year my dad took two loads in from the same bin on the same day. One load was docked for too high a moisture content, and one was too low....impossible since it came from the same bin, but the farmer has to accept what the grain operator says it is....

Work continues into the night. The combines and trucks look like fire belching dragons accompanied by fat beetles.

Here is a grain ring. This is a temporary "bin" made of curved sections of corrugated galvanized steel bolted together at the base. The grain is dumped (hopefully) dead center and when the pile is full, a tarp is spread across the top.

Some spoilage occurs as there is nothing to keep the grain mixed and drying, but they are relatively inexpensive (I think my brother said they cost about $8,000 per ring) and can be moved from year to year and from field to field. He said the cost of buying a ring was about the same as renting a bin. The black spot in front of the ring is my 6' 2" brother in law, so that should give you a little idea of size. I think of these rings as grain yurts....

America's farmers literally feed the world. The yield that the American farmer is able to get is amazing. In some areas on my brother's farm, he was getting 70 bushels of barley per acre. The high protein barley he raises is used as rice extenders in Asia as well as being used in various high fiber products in the U.S. and Europe. If you have eaten one of FiberOne's products, then you have eaten grain from my brother's farm.

My brother does his best to farm using the best conservation methods available. Unfortunately, he can't afford to grow organic, although he did do a small amount for a while. It simply didn't pay. While he has well over 10,000 acres in cultivation (some are left fallow with a cover crop), some of the acreage isn't useful. Very little in this part of the world is out of production for wetlands or woods. Some areas are alkali beds which doesn't grow anything. The Alkaline salts from deep beneath the soil were brought up to the surface and won't allow anything to grow in these areas. I have seen some which leave a white substance on the surface which looks for all the world like snow.

Hard work. A great amount of risk for their investment. Dangerous work. Bravo for the American Farmer!

1 comment:

Vivien said...

Hear, hear! One of my close girlfriends married a Minnesota farmer who provided beans and peas for Libby's. Some of my husband's aunts and uncles farmed in Ohio (my husband has an interesting story of his own near death during harvest). Yep, dangerous, hard, and vital work. Bravo!