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Megan: Roland Harvesting On A Roll

Helena, Okla. – The past week has been incredibly busy for Roland Harvesting. Upon the official reunion of our crew last week we encountered two inches of rain that evening that shut us down for a day and a half. After all that moisture it was a little slow going for a day or two due to the tough, damp straw. However, once the winds kicked up, the humidity blew off a bit, and the temperatures skyrocketed we’ve been able to knock out the acres!

Brandon, Jose, Kasey, and Eric continued harvest in Carmen, Okla. where the yields ranged from 30 to 55 bushels per acre with test weights of 60 to 61 pounds. We were thrilled to actually see stubble in the field for the first time all summer! Now, based upon the reports of the lower yielding wheat crop farther south, you may wonder how wheat in this area was able to do so much better. To be completely honest, I have no idea and this is why.

Neal, our farmer in Carmen, Okla., shared with me the intriguing story of this year’s growing season. From the day the wheat was planted in September until February the only moisture the area received was 7/10 of an inch of rain. That is less than an inch of rain over a 6 month span. In February, everyone in the Carmen area was in for quite a surprise. They received 2 feet of snow!! Now, living in the Wyoming mountains for the last 5 years this initially didn’t shock me too much, but about 3 seconds later I thought, holy moly! Remembering that this amount was received in northern Oklahoma, where they seldom have snow and when they do it’s lucky to even stick or cover the ground. After it dumped the 2 feet of snow, Neal mentioned how they were out of electricity for 6 nights and 7 days. Wood burning stoves are not common in the area so Neal and his wife, Mary, spent much of this time keeping warm in their pickup. In addition, snow removal was a challenge for the area, making travel near impossible. Neal and Mary survived this adventure but were sure to put a generator in their house so they could be prepared for the next big power outage. After all that excitement, the growing season concluded with 5 different freezes from March until May, finishing with another light snow on the first of May.  Neal is convinced that the large amount of snow in February was the only thing that saved this crop. Surviving the drought at the beginning of the growing season and staying resilient to the multiple freezes and snow this spring just absolutely fascinates me. Regardless, the farmers and harvesters were both pleasantly surprised by the outcome of this wheat!

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad began cutting about 20 miles away in the nearby town of Helena. Since this was the first time their CR 9060 was in the wheat this year they encountered a few grumblings. As Mom would say, “Old yeller had the flu.” They quickly discovered that the computer software for the hydrostat was outdated, causing major problems.  Once this got fixed, the CR perked up and began making some serious progress. Yields in the Helena area are in the same range as Carmen, making between 35 to 60 bushels per acre. Brandon’s crew finished harvest in Carmen over the weekend, and met up with Mom and Dad in Helena. With 3 combines and a grain cart in the field, we have been able to “fly” through the acres. Since we have had cooperative weather and our entire crew working together, the end of Oklahoma harvest is in sight. We hope to finish in Helena today or tomorrow and move up the road to our next stop in Plainville, Kansas.

Unfortunately, my time on the road was short-lived this trip as I was only able to help move down and stick around for a day or so. And of course, with my luck it turned out to be a rain day. Luckily, I managed to snap a few photos from the first evening we arrived.  I was just in time to enjoy my favorite view in the entire world: harvest at dusk. There is just something about watching combines cut away and kick up dust by the dim light of a sunset. And who doesn’t just love those pastel cotton candy clouds bouncing around in the background.

Heavenly wheat
Heavenly wheat. Need I say more?

Waiting for a full truck
The semi parked on edge of the field, waiting to get loaded up and head to town.

Combines at dusk
Photos sure don’t give this view any justice. This will forever be my favorite time of day on harvest.

Wheat in sunset
I can never get enough of those wheat heads bouncing freely in the wind. When it is calm and peaceful out and the combines are shut down you can actually hear the whispers of the wheat field. When we were little, we used to lay in the bed of the pickup, gazing at the stars, listening to the wheat rustle around, with the smell of fresh wheat dust in the air. Ah, that was the life.

Eric and Kasey
Eric and Kasey meet in the truck to begin going over tickets from the day. By doing so, they can let the farmer know the yields on each individual field. The sooner the farmer knows this, the happier he is!

Cutting away
I love the lighting that dusk brings to wheat.

Unloading on the semi
Brandon unloads on the back hopper of the grain trailer to fill up the truck. In every town the grain elevators have different hours and certain ones stay open later than others. Sometimes, elevators will close down early due to rain, few amounts of trucks, or the day of the week (On Sundays the elevators often open or close late).  It is important for the truck drivers to radio back this crucial information to Brandon or Dad so they can make a game plan for the rest of the night. A little harvest secret: If you are nice and friendly to the crew at the elevator they typically return the favor and will often stay open a little later so you can get your last load of wheat in for the day.

Camper by an oil well
During their time in Carmen, Brandon’s crew transitioned to life in the camper.  Being able to drive 5 miles across the field to your camper definitely beat the 45 minute drive over to Enid for a very expensive motel room. They didn’t even have to spend much time in the kitchen since they were spoiled by Miss Mary’s cooking, which is beyond wonderful!

Megan fueling up
Filling up the transfer fuel tank with red dyed diesel is a daily chore. Dyed diesel is fuel with red dye added to show there are no federal or state fuel taxes paid, making it slightly cheaper than the regular diesel we put in our semis and pickups. We use this dyed red fuel for our combines and tractors since they are considered non-highway farming equipment.

Brandon checking in box
Brandon takes a peek in one of our little black boxes, which are kept in the back of our pickups. In these we keep first-aid kits, an extra case of water, bungee cords, mini shovels, certain parts and tools, etc. They are basically our survival boxes that go everywhere with us!

Pickup party
This is what I like to call a pickup party. If you have ever lived in, driven through, or visited a small town I guarantee you have seen them or maybe even been a part of them.  Farmers, harvesters, locals, visitors, and just about anyone who is curious and willing to chat will stop at one of these. The other thing about pickup parties is that they can happen just about anywhere – parking lots, fields, sides of roads, the middle of downtown – as long as you’re somewhat out of the way. My dad has been harvesting in Helena for over 30 years so he seems to know about everyone in town, making our pickup parties there especially popular.

Listening to the gameplan
Brandon, Jose, Dad, Kasey, and Eric gather around to discuss the game plan on our rain day. Most often we spend rain days doing maintenance on the machines, doing extensive servicing, and taking care of any other odds and ends. Every once in a while when all of this is completed  we get to have the day off to rest up or go goof off for a few hours.

Mom waiting for directions
Mom seeks the shade of the combine to listen to the game plan. At the age of 20 working in the sun seems like a great thing since you are able to get your tan on. However, the massive amount of sun we are exposed while working on harvest can be very harmful. In fact, Mom has many sun spots and damage on her face, neck, and arms from the days before sunscreen’s popularity and Dad has had a few spots of skin cancer removed from his nose and ears. In case you haven’t already guessed, this is my nursing soapbox to you all: Wear your sunscreen and keep your skin free from wrinkles and cancer!

I’d like to credit the remaining pictures this week to Brandon. Thanks, brother!

Tracks from the mud
Looks like someone found a muddy sinkhole after all that rain. Luckily Brandon was able to get through it without getting stuck.

Semis lined up from across the field
A view from inside the combine overlooking the field and semis in the distance.

Jose plugged the header
Jose plugged up his header after going through a weedy patch on the edge of the field. Digging out your header filled with bugs, spiders, stickers, dirt and huge piles of wheat is not the most fun. However, it is part of the job and you just have to buck up and do it.
At least Jose appears to be in good spirits here…

Truck slid off in ditch
With the many oil fields in the area, the roads are very worked down and soft from the heavy truck traffic. One of our truck drivers began to turn into the field and due to the poor condition of the road, the front end of the truck slid off the road and almost into a culvert. Corporate (aka Dad) was called to the rescue and after hooking the truck up, they were able to pull it safely back onto the main dirt road. If the corner had been taken at a faster speed or if it was not pulled out correctly the hoppers on the bottom of the grain trailer could have been ripped off, the landing gear could have been busted, or the steering axle could have been broken. Luckily, no major damage was done to the truck or trailer. This was certainly a learning experience for both our truckers and everyone in the crew. Slow down and take it safe everyone!

Equipment all lined up
All three of the CR’s and grain cart lined up in the morning before getting serviced. Due to the higher yielding wheat, the grain cart  and extra machine have been at life saver at this stop!

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


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