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Brian: Homeward bound as North Dakota wraps up the 2018 season

And just like that..the last pass is made, and wheat harvest 2018 is over for Jones Harvesting. Can that be possible? Did we really finish North Dakota in only 7 days? Amazingly, yes. Watch the video bellow to catch the harvesting action from the combine cab and the completion of the last field. Then continue reading on for a detailed account of the final days of harvest 2018 for the crew.

In my last correspondence we were harvesting with our hair on fire and the pace never slowed until the last bushel was cut. North Dakota can have tricky weather.  The temperatures are so much different from, say Kansas. Highs often struggle to climb out of the 80’s, and heavy dew with overnight lows in the 40’s can mean very short harvest days in North Dakota.  Throw in a rain, and progress here can be agonizingly slow. But in a year where almost nothing was “normal”, neither was the weather here at our last stop in Strasburg. Breezy conditions, low humidity and temperatures that repeatedly hit the upper 90’s meant the combines rolled uninterrupted for seven days.

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An eerie haze than nearly blocks out the sun is present almost daily in North Dakota, caused by the wild fires in both the USA and Canada.

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The flat fields of Kansas seem worlds away as the combines negotiate steep slopes, some over 15°.

Joining forces with our farmer’s machines made short work of our acres here, and seven days was all it took to wrap things up with five machines. With the help of two large grain carts and a nearby bin site for the trucks to deliver their loads, we set a record for the most acres harvested in the least amount of time in North Dakota. Ever. This type of efficiency makes us look back on the year and wonder….why oh why couldn’t the entire run have been like this?

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5 combines and 2 grain carts make quick work of the acres here in North Dakota, creating a frenzy of activity in the field not present with just our 2 machines in other states.

It seems nearly every year we wrap up our last field in the dark, and often before a major rain event moves in. This year repeated that, working late into the night as lighting in the west provided motivation to push the machines to their limits. The unusually hot weather ripened the wheat extra fast, so fast in fact that the moisture was under 14% but the lower portion of the straw was still very green. The yield usually hovered around 50 bushels per acre, but the straw was so heavy it looked more like 100. This meant the machine’s speeds were often horsepower-limited by the dense, green straw, especially when unloading on the go, up hill. It takes a lot of horsepower to turn the unload auger and drag a full grain tank up the hill, all while still harvesting.

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Unusually warm weather makes for dry grain but green straw, pushing the machines to their limits at night and commanding a tremendous amount of horsepower as we harvest in the hills and unload “on-the-go”.

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As the sun set, conditions rapidly deteriorated. I’m still not sure if it was the heavy straw or a stray rock, but I found myself stopped in the field with a header plugged full…a mountain of wheat straw not feeding into the machine. After clearing it out I found the center rubber draper feed belt all bunched up, ripped apart were the two ends are joined together.  All I could think about was, “Please, no….don’t let my harvest end with a break down that sidelines me in the last field”.  Luckily the tear was minor, and with some extra hands and an hour of effort the belt was cobbled together . I just needed it to hold together for 1-2 more hours…but would it?

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Harvest nearly abruptly ends with a wadded-up draper feed belt. All hands on deck rushed to cobble together a repair that allowed us run just long enough to finish the final field before the rain.

Yes.  We only had a small part of the field left, but it was more than could be finished without my combine doing it’s share of the work.  The damp, green straw had reduced our speed to a crawl, but the intensifying lighting urged us too push it to the bleeding edge. Only a few more acres left and then the final pass remained. David and I were at opposite ends of the field, headed towards each other until we would meet in the middle.  And just like that, the final field was done.  Time to celebrate the end of the season, right?

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Witness the final seconds of wheat harvest 2018 as the combines meet in the middle on the last past of the final field. And just like that, it’s all over….

I guess I never feel that way. Perhaps I’m too emotional, or I get too wrapped up in harvesting. But every second of that last pass I feel an overwhelming sadness descend on me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great accomplishment to finish, and it’s not like I didn’t know this moment was coming. But I think many custom harvesters never want the season to end. Sure, we need a break sometimes, and it is exciting to be back home after months of traveling. Yet, it seems so sad to be done. Our routine of nearly three months suddenly is over and the reality of the work that lies ahead back home make me want to find just one more wheat field to harvest. Okay,  maybe two fields. No really, how about we move to one more state?

We are glad to have taken the time to clean the machines the night before, despite the extra effort to do it in the dark. Not 10 minutes after leaving the field we found ourselves in a downpour. Perfect timing. At 1 A.M. we reached the lot where we unloaded equipment. I’m not really feeling all that tired, my mind is trying to come to terms with the fact we are done. I ponder what it will be like to return home. I can’t sleep. Is it depression or exhaustion that I feel? Probably a mix of both.

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Cleaning machines in the dark is never fun, but at least it’s not hot out. The ever-increasing lighting in the west provides motivation to work quickly, and with 10 minutes to spare the machines pull out of the field and drive to the combine trailers in a thunderstorm.

Maybe the excitement of home will cheer me up. Still, tonight I feel like the journey always comes to such an abrupt end, and no amount of preparation makes it easier to come to terms with. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but this is what I love. I’m happiest when I’m harvesting. This passion to harvest runs in my blood. This is when I feel connected to the land. This is why I labor…for the love of the harvest.

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Be sure to check back soon for Brian’s  final  “wrap-up and review” of wheat harvest 2018.  Brian will share details of the final journey back home, adjusting to life not spent “on the road”, his favorite photos of the summer, provide a fall harvest outlook and share preparations already being made for wheat harvest 2019.  You won’t want to miss it!

All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and John Deere. Brian can be reached at brian@allaboardharvest.com.

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