Megan: Bottleneck Effect

Hemingford, Neb. – Roland Harvesting has spent the last week cutting in the Nebraska panhandle. Our crew remains split up as Brandon and Kasey work diligently to finish up in Chadron, Neb. about 30 miles north of where we live. Usually we cut out the Chadron stop and then pull in at home. However, this year we ran into green wheat and have encountered multiple rain showers near Chadron that have slowed our efforts. Due to this, the rest of us began working at home and have been able to whittle away at the wheat.

Surprisingly, we have had some very “comfortable” days with temperatures staying in the 80’s, making it much more bearable to work outside. Along with the mild weather we have been dodging storms almost every afternoon. Two days ago, we finally got caught and had a wonderful downfall of rain for almost an hour, with more rain showers on and off the rest of the evening! Although we wished we could have kept cutting, knowing that our fall crops were receiving this moisture was enough to keep us content. Unfortunately, word quickly spread that many areas south and west of town were not as lucky and received golf ball sized hail. With hail of this size any wheat crop left standing was destroyed by this storm. When ripe wheat gets pummeled by hail the grain shatters out and the stalks break over easily, totaling this crop. It’s an awful thing to witness or experience. We just pray that those farmers had hail insurance to help offset their loss.

Aside from the recent weather, Hemingford is a rather unique and well-known stop on the harvest run. Besides it being home to us, Hemingford marks the center of the wheat belt “bottleneck.” The wheat belt is the agricultural region in North America, where the production of wheat is most prominent. This stretches from northern Texas, through much of Oklahoma, into western and central Kansas, passing into eastern Colorado, up through a small stretch in western Nebraska and finally ballooning back out into large areas of the Dakotas and Montana. The “bottleneck” of this area is found in the panhandle of Nebraska and a little bit into eastern Wyoming. This particular stretch marks the small sliver of wheat country that comes between the pasturelands of Wyoming and the sand hills of central Nebraska, making it the most suitable ground in the region to plant wheat.  Hemingford sits in the heart of this wheat “bottleneck,” raising a massive amount of wheat in a relatively small area. The state of Nebraska is the 11th largest state in the production of wheat, raising over 1.6 million acres of wheat per year. Due to the tens of thousands of acres of wheat in western Nebraska, Hemingford is a very popular destination for custom harvesting crews. The combination of the enormous amounts of wheat to be harvested and the great number of crews in the area often leads to congestion at the elevator. Years ago, the truck line at the Hemingford grain elevator used to be horrendous. It was not unusual to wait in line for hours on end to get a single truck unloaded.  In recent years, the elevator has been updated and reconstructed to handle the high capacity of grain that comes into the facility.

Pretty wheat
The wheat around Hemingford has done much better than expected! This spring, much of the wheat didn’t have a good stand, causing many farmers to choose to destroy their wheat and plant in another cover crop. However, the wheat that was kept has been yielding between 30 to 60 bushels per acre with test weights running between 60 to 62 pounds and protein around 13 – 14%.

Ashley and Aunt Lynda
Being at home also means seeing more familiar faces! Ashley and Aunt Lynda came home to help out with harvest over the weekend. Home harvest has always been a family affair and certainly keeps us all very busy.

Racing the storm
One of the many storms brewing on the horizon.

Uncle Carl watching the grain cart unload
Uncle Carl also came home to assist with harvest.  He was our professional truck driver for the weekend and we made sure to keep him running! He always watched on as I loaded up the truck with the grain cart, which was a huge help since I was usually plum full when he pulled back into the field.

Storm blowing in
One of the CR’s racing another storm as it appears to get closer and closer.

Dark clouds behind grain cart
We managed to luck out on that one as it blew past us and the sunshine came out so we could continue cutting. Above: The loaded grain cart waits for a truck to return to the field. We were short-handed on trucks for a few days since our crew was split up.  After sitting in rain for two days the crew in Chadron decided to bring down one of the CR’s and grain trailers to help out around home, where the weather has been more cooperative.

James is back!
And yet another familiar helper! Our cousin, James, who worked for Roland Harvesting the past 2 summers, was able to make the journey home to run combine for a few days over the weekend. He currently has an internship at the Case New Holland (CNH) plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, where he works with other engineers on the assembly line, overseeing the production of combines being built.

CR cutting in the wheat
James cuts away with some friendlier clouds in the sky.  

Back view of the combine cutting
Keeping busy in the field. 

Tracks of the sprayer
A view from inside the combine. The tracks you see are made from the sprayer that went over the wheat earlier this spring. This wheat was sprayed with chemical to help control weeds and certain grasses within the field.

Broken sickle section
This is what happens when a sickle bearing goes out on the header. The sickles aren’t able to move, causing it to plug up. Fortunately, we had an extra one in the service truck so it could be replaced and get back into the field.

TR choppers plugged
The TR ’98 has come out of retirement to help with home harvest. However, it was barely in the field for a few minutes before the chopper became plugged with the damp straw. The choppers on the TR models plug up much easier than the CR’s. Digging it out was no fun, but once that was done Dad told Ashley to keep the TR in “slow mode” so it could pass the straw easier.

Cousin chloie
Here’s another visitor we had! Our little cousin, Chloie, came out to the field to ride in the tractor and combine! Seeing the excitement on kids’ faces as they experience harvest brings backs such great memories from my childhood.  It was a blast to answer the tons of questions she had and it was so fun to see her excitement as she started making connections.  Chloie and her dolly loved learning about harvest and promised they would come back soon!

Unloading in the distance
Mom stops at the grain cart to unload and top it off.

Ground pile at the elevator
The ground pile of wheat at the grain elevator in Hemingford.  The enormous amount of wheat that is hauled into this facility never ceases to amaze me.

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

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