02 Aug Scott: Hurry Up And Wait
Scott Clark talks about American Quality’s move across South Dakota and the frustration of not being able to find ripe wheat to harvest.
Fellow harvesters and friends often refer to custom harvesting as a lifestyle. Although I do agree that it is a unique lifestyle; I would also say that it’s a tough business. The agriculture industry, and farming, is known to be physically demanding as many people still envision laborers out in the fields harvesting crops with hand scythes or riding cab-less machinery tilling the land. However few people outside of the industry also acknowledge the entrepreneurial skills required by farmers and custom harvesters alike.
Harvesters run a business, and like all businesses—they have to be productive and yield a profit at the end of the season in order to pay the bills. It seems like a simple concept, but sometimes the weather makes that difficult to accomplish. When it rains for 10, 15, or 20 days straight; it makes it tough to harvest any grain and generate revenue while the bills like payroll, trailer parking, meals, and equipment payments continue to accumulate. Other factors such as hailstorms or droughts that wipe out an entire crop at a big stop can also impede harvesters financially. One thing is for certain—when the crops are ripe, they must be harvested no matter the weather conditions. Harvesters must orchestrate half million dollar pieces of machinery around each field and over farms across the country. Crew managers must have the means to setup, maintain, and service their machinery as well as the technology within. Many machines are equipped with several computers and technology more sophisticated than that found in homes today. Their job becomes even more complicated when trying to facilitate the operation of several of these machines at the same time, in some cases—a dozen or more machines operating in one field.
In our business, we find ourselves practicing the “hurry up and wait” business approach quite frequently. There’s always a sense of urgency to get the crop out and we do our best to harvest each of our jobs as quickly as possible. Dad always said “I’d rather be tired than be waiting on the last forty acres to dry out after a big rain” referencing the long hours we work. Part of this philosophy comes from the constant push to get to the next stop on our harvest trail. All harvesters map out locations that correlate with their other stops and try to fill their entire season full of harvesting. However, as weather patterns fluctuate from year to year, so does the harvesting window at each of those stops. On a normal year, one might be able to harvest three stops in Kan., one in Colo, and then make it to South Dakota without ever having to split up the crew and machinery to harvest multiple locations at one time. That’s the ideal case and we’ve been fortunate again this season that it worked out well for us. Although it has worked out, we’ve been pushing to get moved to the next stop all season. Part of this rush can be attributed to our farmers at each of the next stops getting anxious to see us arrive in his or her yard to harvest the crop.
Sometimes the anxiety of getting the crop out is a little premature just as it was at our current stop near Mitchell, S.D. We arrived there from Pierre this past Tuesday and had to wait a couple of days for the green wheat to ripen in order to begin harvesting. This is just another simple example of all of the things a custom harvester must organize and work around in his business.
Since getting in the fields, we’ve encountered some wet ground conditions after the 5” rain last week. However, we’ve been getting along well with our high flotation equipment and have managed to harvest 1000 acres of 60 bushel wheat. The test weights have been running around 58 to 61 pounds. Our crew will be at this job site throughout the first week of August before we’ll begin looking for more work in South and North Dakota as our jobs in North Dakota won’t be ready yet. It’s hard to believe August has already arrived and that the 2011 wheat harvest will soon be coming to a close! Although we don’t currently have a job lined up after this stop, we’re still in hurry up mode because we don’t want to risk having a storm damage any of the wheat crop we’re harvesting right now. There’s rarely a time to relax in this business.
It’s a tough lifestyle that you just have to love to do it. We haven’t even mentioned a working around a limited work force, complying with the department of transportation for each state, or suffering major breakdowns or accidents yet either! Many harvesters say the stress and fast pace fuels them and the sites you see around the country while traveling and the satisfaction of harvesting someone’s crop for them makes it all worthwhile. No doubt about it—it’s a demanding business environment that requires living “on-the-road”, working long, hard hours, and planning for the unexpected.
As always, American Quality would like to thank our sponsors and followers for another great harvest season. God Bless!
For more information contact crew@allaboardharvest. All Aboard 2011 is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.