Brian: End in sight

Onida, South Dakota—The crew has been working for almost a month now Sully County, and fatigue is starting to set in. To be honest, no one is really complaining. South Dakota always is our biggest stop of the year, and a little hard work never killed anyone. When you stay long enough to see the sunflowers bloom you know it’s time to wrap things up here.

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Amber waves of grain may be beautiful, but a sunflower field doesn’t look too shabby either. South Dakota sunflowers just seem to make you smile.


The spring wheat has been excellent, the yield numbers resembling more what we would expect of winter wheat. Most fields have averaged over 60 bushels per acre, almost hitting the 70 bushels per acre metric a few times. Test weights are right where they should be, and protein levels have been right around 15%. It’s a beautiful crop, and few farmers will remember a year where all of their wheat acres averaged such a high yield.

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Pyramids of grain indicate the crop is so big it can’t all be stored under roof. Glen hauls plenty of bushels to grow those mountains of grain after indoor storage is unable to hold the record yields.  


The trucks are running their wheels off with all these bushels to haul. Enormous fields combined with the grain cart keep the combines constantly moving, the trucks returning empty only to find their next load already waiting for them. It can be nearly 100 miles around trip for some loads to be delivered, taking 2.5 hours for each load. Our farmer has assigned one of his trucks to haul full-time for us while here, and on occasion a few additional trucks grab a load to help keep everything moving along.



Having covered nearly 5,000 miles in his truck while here, Cameron unloads in a bin after the elevator closes for evening. A full grain cart always is waiting for the next truck to arrive, and we couldn’t have done it without Steve, our farmer’s employee. Brenda can unload over 1,200 bushels onto Steve’s truck with double trailers in a matter of minutes.


Keeping track of the trucks is a full-time job, but not getting lost in the field at night is no joke either. The size of the fields here never cease to amaze, and we helped conquer an 1,100 acre field. Sometimes the grain cart and truck disappears as you drop into a low spot. You can look around 360 degrees and all you can see is your own field. Only 93 more mile-long passes to go … and then you start it all over again in the next field.



With wide open spaces this big, a stormy sky means you better have plan in place. Tracking when the next truck will return, how much grain still can fit on the cart, and knowing you won’t get caught in the rain with the grain cart a mile away with your tank half full takes extra planning, and a little luck.


With the end of South Dakota harvesting in sight, we’ve been in touch with some farmers in North Dakota. Usually this is our final stop of the season, but we are sad to hear we will not be needed this year. Their brutally wet spring forced many fields to go unplanted, and the number of wheat acres is minimal. Harvest will last just a few days this year in the Strasburg area, and there will be a lot of locally owned machines with little to do. It’s a disheartening way to end the year, but all we can do is be thankful for the record-setting number of acres and bushels we have harvested in Onida this year.

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There’s just something about these South Dakota sunsets. With the blue evening sky as a backdrop, golden wheat contrasts sharply against the orange and pink hues as the sun slips away. It’s the reward of putting in a hard day’s work, but it’s not over yet.


The anticipation of ending another season is building, and the crew has moved to our last field of 900 acres. It looks like some other machines working on this job will be joining us, dividing up our farmer’s final acres. If everything goes as planned we will finish 28 days after we started here, harvesting all but four of those days. After a slow start, the finish line is in sight.

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The last field is under way, and coordinating the cart with the combines has become second nature. We’ve harvested over 250,000 bushels of grain while here, and it’s been a record-setting stop. The reality of how different our routine will be a week from now is beginning to set in. 


Soon we will be loading up equipment, but this time the destination will be home. It’s time to take in those last few amazing sunsets. To enjoy the scenery on these final trips to the elevator. To stand in the middle of a wheat field a country mile wide and close your eyes and listen to the rustling. Can you see it? Can you hear it? I hope you experience it for yourself in the video below. Be sure to check back soon … I’ll be sharing my final thoughts on the season, compiling the best photos of the summer, and explaining what it’s like to return back home as we prepare for the harvest of our own fall crops.

All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by Unverferth Manufacturing Co., Inc., Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, Agri-Pro, Gleaner, BASF, and High Plains Journal.  Join the conversation by leaving a question or comment.  Brian can be reached at

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