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Harvest: A reality in whose world?

On the evening of October 13th The History Channel revealed their newest show, “Harvest,” to the entire nation. Featuring three diverse harvest crews, including my family’s (Roland Harvesting), this hour-long premiere has initiated quite the controversial buzz in the world of agriculture. Throughout the four episodes of watching and analyzing “Harvest,” I personally experienced a variety of feelings from anticipation to nervousness to excitement to annoyance to surprise and finally ending with contentment.

Being in front of the cameras and seeing the other side of things certainly gave our crew and family a different perspective on this show. The film crew followed us for multiple weeks throughout the summer and they spent hundreds of hours collecting raw footage from the field. Although the film crew had their own agenda, they often times worked the same long, hard hours as we did and endured the heat and dust to capture just the perfect shots. (Unfortunately, due to History Channel’s request, I was not able to post any information about the film crew with us this summer. It truly was quite an experience to see how they operated around all of their equipment!)

Anyone who has experienced harvest firsthand and watched the show can recognize that things were portrayed quite differently than they actually are “out in the field.” The important thing is that all the circumstances and concerns that History Channel has focused on are all plausible situations on harvest. One has to remember that this type of show is not being represented as a documentary, but rather more of a “reality show.” I believe my parents put it best. “We (the harvest crews) were simply the paint and the producers were the artists. They made a masterpiece with their own thoughts and interpretations intertwined in it. We were merely the base of the artwork.”

A lengthy list could easily be made about all the things that have been exaggerated in this show. Those of you who have been lucky enough to experience harvest can undoubtedly point out every detail that did not appear accurate. However, I would like to discuss just a few. First off, there is an undeniable inaccurate portrayal of money since often times it appears we’ll be able to make “thousands of dollars from a 2-day job.” Although this aspect may be true, they don’t mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars of combine payments, insurance, and fuel costs we have to pay in order to even operate.

In addition, the show makes a combine breaking down seem like the end of the world. While working 14-hour days all summer long it gets to the place where getting your sickle plugged or activating the stone trap on your combine are common things. Although they do dramatize these “slight breakdowns,” the truth is that if we’re not in the field cutting wheat, than we’re losing money and getting behind.

There were numerous occasions where timelines and situations were not portrayed accurately. Most of you followed All Aboard Wheat Harvest throughout the summer and I believe that you probably already acknowledged these differences. If at any point during the program you thought, “What the heck? Why would you do that?” chances are that that scene was manipulated from the reality of the situation. Now, I don’t want to ruin your views on this type of television but I do have a few insights to share. As anyone in agriculture knows, when a piece of machinery gets stuck you do everything in your power to get it out. If one attempt doesn’t work then you find a bigger piece of machinery to pull it out until you succeed.

Although it was not portrayed in Episode 3, we did just that and were back to operating smoothly within the hour. The same principle applies when the combines break down. I’ve seen Dad spend numerous hours straight working on a combine to get it back up and running. In addition, our crew’s attitudes were slightly manipulated for the show. It is important to remember that there were producers for this show, which means we were portrayed as characters. Brandon is fresh out of high school and does often push Dad to his limits on harvest. Nevertheless, Brandon is one of the hardest workers I know and he always respects Dad and the decisions he makes as boss of Roland Harvesting.

Being in front of the camera and then watching the show, we certainly recognized all of these differences and could easily point out many situations that were depicted in a different light than they actually happened. As custom harvesters, we were simply doing our job and had cameras filming us along the way. We did not make any of the storylines, nor did we create any of the episodes. The first time we saw anything from the show “Harvest” was when my fellow crewmates and family sat down in our living room on October 13th and anxiously watched the first few scenes of the premiere begin to flash across the TV.

Before this experience of being followed by a film crew and watching the actual show on TV, I used to be one of those people who would analyze these types of shows and question why something was being done or how that situation could be such a big deal. I’m still not entirely sure how this happens but it is the people in the show that are out working and doing their job that are made out to be “dramatic” or “challenged.” However, it is the show, narrator and History Channel that choos to portray these individuals or crews in that light. We spent countless hours explaining harvest and all the hardships to the film crew. It was their choice to “pick and choose” from that as they pleased. I was slightly disappointed with this portrayal since Dad has been harvesting for 33 years and is very knowledgeable in this area. Harvest has been our family’s livelihood for all these years and will be for many years to come.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone involved in harvest would agree: We do wish the show could have been more factually correct. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a more holistic view of harvest. I think it would have been quite effective to explain the entire process from harvesting the wheat, to loading up the semis, to hauling the grain to the elevator and finally explaining what happens to the grain from there. By clarifying these details History Channel easily could have educated consumers a little bit more about where their food comes from.

On a lighter note, I fully enjoyed all the amazing shots they showed of all the different equipment and fields! I’m sure most of us working in this industry have never been able to see some of those angles. Watching the camera on the reel go round and round, or seeing the aerial views while combining – all these shots were just absolutely fascinating to me.

Overall, History Channel is just trying to make a living, just like the rest of us. As Americans I think we sometimes become so critical toward one another that we often lose ourselves in the negativity of it all. Working in agriculture, it is our realm of the world that should understand firsthand that we’re all just trying to get by. As custom harvesters, combining wheat is not only our job but it is our way of life. I believe the U.S. Customer Harvesters Inc. puts it best: “We harvest the crops that feed the world.” As harvesters, we all understand and appreciate the hard work, triumphs and trials, and overall love we have for agriculture.

We endure extreme environments, work outrageously long hours, and operate dangerous heavy machinery on a daily basis. However, we are privileged enough to see the smile of relief on the farmer’s face when the last load of wheat is hauled into the bin, or the feeling of accomplishment as our crews finally pull into to our hometowns after many long months on the road, or the serenity of combining a wheat field at dusk as the sun dips beneath the horizon and its afterglow touches everything in sight.

It is so significant that agriculture and specifically harvest is in the spotlight on a national programming station. After years and years of our efforts through word of mouth, magazines, websites, and documentaries, harvest has finally received fame from one of the most watched TV channels. By starting this spark through the show, a larger portion of the nation who is clueless when it comes to agriculture just might start taking the time to look further and deeper into it which will lead them to all of our current agricultural resources, like All Aboard Harvest.

Lastly, ranchers, farmers, and harvesters are the backbone of America and we don’t need to be shining in the limelight to thrive. Simply being acknowledged and accepting our position in society is enough for us. So, if one show on History Channel about harvest can make a difference and educate Americans about the 1 – 2% of us in the country then I would say in the end, we are the ones who have succeeded.

Megan can be reached at megan@allaboardharvest.com. All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.


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