This is harvest season, the most important time of the year for those involved in agriculture. For those not farming, the closest to harvest they get is seeing a combine move across a field as they speed down the interstate or county highway. So to help non-farmers get a better understanding of harvest, here are ten things they should know about harvest.
10. Harvest takes top priority over everything else. During the harvest season, getting the crops in is the only thing on which a farm family is focused. Meetings, school functions, sporting events, family gatherings, even church activities, take a backseat to harvest.
9. Harvest is a family affair. Wives, children, grandparents, even in-laws get to participate in harvest. From driving a truck to bringing meals to the field, there is more than enough work to go around, and just about everyone has a role to play and a job to do. It is the only time of the year when a farmer will accept help from a city slicker son-in-law. Harvest is also a time when family members get their first taste of farming. It is common to find a proud farmer harvesting his crop with his young grandson or granddaughter beside him.
8. Harvest is a dirty job. No matter what crop you are harvesting, there is dirt and dust involved. Farmers come home from harvesting wearing this dust and dirt. Farm wives often have a tough time keeping up with the laundry during harvest season. This is one reason why farmers do not wear suits and designer shirts when doing fieldwork.
7. Harvest is a dangerous time of the year. To the casual observer, running a combine across a field may not seem dangerous, but these are powerful machines and pose many dangers. Grain dust is very flammable and combine fires are not uncommon. The large number of moving parts on this equipment can also pose a serious risk to the operators. Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations there is, and that danger is especially high at harvest.
6. Harvest is only half the job. After a load of corn or soybeans has been removed from a field, it must be heated in a grain dryer to remove moisture to avoid mold during storage. It must then be stored in a bin, either on a farm or at a commercial storage facility. Finally, it must be sold to a grain company, feed processor, ethanol processor, or another farmer. All this happens before the farmer who raised the crop gets paid.
5. There are no lunch breaks during harvest. Harvest takes place in fields, far from town, and far from the farmhouse. Thus, meals at harvest are eaten in the field or while the combine is running across a field. Family members will usually bring a meal to the field; and, in some communities, local restaurants will even deliver meals to farmers in the field. Harvest days will often last 12 to 18 hours, and so, typically, several meals a day will be consumed while harvesting.
4. Harvest time is romantic. The harvest moon can be a powerful influence on those romantically inclined. Many a farm girl has felt this influence while on a combine date on a warm fall evening. Perhaps it is the hum of the machinery or the flow of the grain, but I personally know of several proposals of marriage that have been made during harvest. Many married couples talk about the fun they have had while harvesting by moonlight. Some of these combine dates have resulted in some production of another type.
3. Harvest is the time of the year when Murphy’s Law is the most active. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time. Mechanical breakdowns, sudden rains, and illness can all make an uneventful harvest a crisis. This is a fear that lives in the back of every farmer’s head and is why, when the last field has been done, he heaves such a big sigh of relief.
2. Harvest is a farmer’s favorite time of year. Even with all the challenges listed above, even when prices are far below what he had expected, the harvesting of his crop represents the fulfillment of his hopes at planting and the vindication of his hard work all season long to raise a crop. Harvest produces a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that a non-farmer cannot understand.
1. Harvest is the one activity on the farm the consumer should care about the most. It is the activity that puts the food into the food chain. The harvest is what will determine food prices and availability. It is the activity that will give the farmer the courage to risk it all again next year. It is what will make sure people here at home and round the world will have food to eat, clothes to wear, and fuel to drive to the grocery store.
For most farms in the US, this year’s harvest is a good one. This means no food price spikes and no shortages. Harvest is a time to celebrate, and both farmers and consumers can share in that celebration.
By Gary Truitt