19 May Janel: Wheat Harvest Is My Summer Routine
Holdrege, Nebraska – Hello! I am Janel Schemper and this is my first AAWH blog. I am a third generation custom harvester. I’ve been going on harvest my entire life. The 1950s was the start of my family business known as “Schemper Harvesting.” My grandpa, Jerry Schemper, was brave enough to leave his farm and went out on the road and made himself a living in the custom harvesting business. My Dad, LaVern Schemper, is the oldest of six kids and is a second generation custom harvester. I have a lifelong bond with my parents (LaVern and Carlene) and three older siblings (Julie, JC and Jared) through our family business. The combine cab was where I spent my time with my Dad or siblings riding along with them and learned all about operating a combine. Otherwise, my time was spent riding with my Mom in a truck hauling many loads of grain to the elevators or grain storage sites. When we would move from location to location and travel across the Great Plains states following the wheat belt, I would ride with my Dad in a truck hauling a combine and I always felt better riding along with Dad. He always found a way to include me and taught me that part of being boss is keeping your eyes on everyone and double-checking everything. He’d say, “Janel, look in the mirror and tell me who you see behind us.” So, I’d go down the line first to last saying something like this, “white top, red top, #3, junior, the pickup and trailer house” and so on, you get the picture. He had a way of being organized and professional and he always made me proud and happy just being with and working alongside him. At the time, I never thought I’d one day be the one to be taking the lead and driving a truck and hauling a combine down the road. I have always enjoyed getting to be a part of the harvest crew! Some things just never change! 😉
When I was thirteen years old, I was operating a combine full-time during the summer months. That was 20+ years ago. After I finished my school years, I continued harvesting and our harvests typically last seven to eight months each year. The years have gone by far too quickly. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get out of school for the summer and go harvesting. I just always looked forward to the harvest. As soon as I weighed enough to keep the combine header going due to a micro switch in the combine seat, I was in the driver’s seat. However, the combine header would occasionally shut off during my teenage years due to my “light weight.” I would sometimes have to set a coffee can full of nuts and bolts on my combine seat armrest to add the necessary weight and I made it work just fine.
Going on harvest has kept me super busy. Harvest for me is definitely the best way to grow up! I would not have had it any other way. I will always be in love with all of those amber waves of grain! It is always quite the sight! For the rest of my life, harvest time will always hold a special place in my heart. To my family it is not so much a job; it has become a tradition and a way of life that is now into the fourth generation. I will continue to support our family harvesting business in the growing generations.
The work ethic I have gained through each harvest season has been a great learning experience and I continue to learn and polish my skills every single day. I was taught early on that it takes a lot of work to be a harvester. Typical days in the field are 12-18 hours and is what it takes to get the job done. I learned responsibility at a young age. My Dad taught me all that and I learned to accept and do what was expected of me and to not ever complain about work but be glad for the opportunity and ability to work. I have also learned about patience through the custom harvesting business. It sometimes seems that we are in the “hurry up and wait” business. We may push hard to get to our next job or field and start cutting only to find that the crop is not ready yet or it’s happened before where a rain shower beat us to it. Sitting and waiting for grain to dry is sometimes what we have to do. Heat and wind are often what it takes to get the appropriate harvesting conditions we need to make progress. The weather plays a huge role in our day to day work and can be quite the challenge.
When people ask me questions like don’t you miss being home or how can you stand to be away from home for so long and I always think of our military. Our military service men and women sacrifice their life for our country. They leave home and fight for our country. Some do not get to come back home (alive) and some come back injured and others have PTSD. What I do for a living is possible because of their sacrifice. My Dad is a veteran and it’s just been instilled in me to think about the bigger picture. The United States of America is the land of the free because of the brave. Have that for a mindset while harvesting (away from home) and you’ll do just fine.
I’ve gained a lot by being able to experience the “American Harvest” year after year. I’ve always felt fortunate that I have a family to get to go to harvest with. It is a unique occupation no doubt about it and it is not for everyone. It takes an exceptional work ethic, excellent work habits, honesty, responsibility, a grown up attitude and serious business professionalism and dedication to fulfill a harvest season year after year (typically May through November). The future of agriculture will always be exciting in my opinion. I want to be a part of the continuous excitement. I’d like to dedicate this blog today to those who know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to appreciating the amber waves of grain and this beautiful country and lifestyle. Thank you to all that have contributed to the success of my family business, Schemper Harvesting from Holdrege, Nebraska.All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ is sponsored by High Plains Journal and John Deere. You can contact Janel at firstname.lastname@example.org