Brian: Bunny trails and rabbit holes

As the combines make their way through the field we chase a lot of wildlife out from the wheat. I can’t help but feel a little bad, forcing them from the shelter and shade of their temporary home. The wheat rustles in strange zig zag paths, giving up the location of whatever is hiding beneath the golden canopy. When you reach the end of your pass the mystery of what you’ve been stalking is finally solved. Usually it’s a jack rabbit, suddenly panicked and darting around like it doesn’t know where to go or what to do.

Ironically, I think the crew feels a little bit that way as we finish Kansas and prepare to move north. It seems like the weather has been running the show lately, and once again it reminding us who’s in charge. The southern states are harvesting later than normal this year, but the northern states are ahead due to a pretty severe drought that has plagued them for quite some time. We have seen this scenario taking shape for a few weeks now. You can see the rabbit hole this is leading us down, can’t you?

The crew bids farewell to Kansas with one final sunset as they clean equipment in the cool of the day. You’d think all those wind turbines would blow all that dirt off the machines, but sadly it doesn’t work that way.

Once again South Dakota is simultaneously ready with Nebraska, and crews are feeling a lot like that jack rabbit the combine chases out. We’ve been darting around Kansas in a panic to complete those acres so we can move north, and we are the ones that don’t know where to go or what to do. With our job in Nebraska graciously understanding we can’t be in two places at once, the crew heads to South Dakota.

The drive through Nebraska is the most scenic of the summer. Every state offers a unique landscape to take in, but passing through the Sand Hills of Nebraska is always the most enjoyable drive of the year. Covering 19,000 square miles, the Sand Hills is the largest tract of stabilized sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere. Basically it’s a desert with some grass growing, and it’s beautiful. It’s also one of the longest and most challenging drives we make.

The Sand Hills of Nebraska are like few places on earth, and traveling through them is a highlight every year. The crew pulls off for fueling one final time as we make our way into Onida, South Dakota.

The sandy rangeland transitions into prairie land, and, eventually, into crop land as we make our way into central South Dakota. This is our first glimpse of the crop here, and we don’t really know what to expect. There has been very little precipitation here all year, and a month ago a lot of us didn’t know if there would even be any wheat to harvest in this area. The winter wheat looks decent, but looks can be deceiving. The spring wheat, however, is a different story. Much of it is 6 inches tall, and you can see bare ground between every row. After last years bumper crop, this year’s yield will be dramatically less.

The drought in the northern Plains has been severe, and the crops in South Dakota have not been spared. The yields may be poor, but the sunsets are still rich in vibrant colors.

We arrive in Onida, and we are only the third crew to set up camp in the trailer park. A lot of crews we expect to see here haven’t arrived yet, undoubtedly still working feverishly to finish harvesting down south. It’s hot, and the crew is weary from our two days of traveling at lot of narrow roads with our wide loads. But we won’t get a break today. We hurriedly unload equipment in the afternoon and start harvesting yet that evening.

Grassy waterways cut through the golden wheat like a river of contrasting color. Harvest begins with perfect weather conditions and long days. Brian’s not pumped over pumping diesel at midnight but it’s the sign of another productive day.

The winter wheat is highly variable, and yields are all over the board. Some areas are 10 bushels per acre, but drop into a low spot where there was more moisture and 100 bushels per acre appears on the yield monitor. It just shows the potential this crop had if only a little more rain would have fallen. It’s still too early to really say what the yields will average since we only harvest for two days before, ironically, an overnight thunderstorm halts harvest.

It’s the prefect opportunity to get our tractor and grain cart situation resolved. We normally have a few days when we arrive to head back to Iowa to get equipment brought up here, but not this year. Glen makes the long drive back to Iowa, loads the tractor, and heads back to Onida the next morning. Brian takes the truck and picks up a grain cart we have rented from 75 miles away. We spend the morning unloading and hooking up the cart, and that afternoon we are back harvesting in mile long fields.

Glen piles on the miles and hours for a quick round trip to Iowa to retrieve the tractor, while Brian pickups up the rented grain cart to help manage all those mile-long rows we will be harvesting. Judah is all smiles as he demonstrates just how big the tires really are on a 1,450-bushel capacity grain cart. They are tires a monster truck would be jealous of.

Like that jack rabbit we’re feel a little frazzled. We’ve been darting around from one place to the next with no time to catch our breath. We’ve been hopping from state to state, rushing to start the South Dakota harvest on time. So if our bunny ears hang a little low, and it appears like we’ve been running our little tails off its because we have. But we love South Dakota with its enormous fields and wide open spaces. Even if the yields are disappointing there’s a lot of acres to cover here over the next few weeks. Better hop to it.

Brenda joins the men in the field as grain cart operator each day here, making sure the boys are keeping on task with her well-honed mom skills. Square-mile fields keep her busy shuttling grain from the combines and to the trucks, and she’s a pro at keeping the combines unloading on the go.


Brian Jones can be reached at
All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by Case IH, Unverferth Manufacturing Co., Inc., BASF, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, Gleaner, ITC, Westbred, Huskie, Western Equipment, US Custom Harvesters, and High Plains Journal.


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