Monday, October 08, 2012

Corn Harvest

One of the things I’ll miss most about living here on the farm is receiving texts like these from Brent:

“We are going in corn if you want to come down”

“Okay. Where?”

“My field. East of fife place” 

In addition to my own organic experiment, Brent knows that my reasons for coming here include learning about industrial agriculture so he’s very thoughtful about pulling me in to a harvest scenario, when possible. Unless I am really slammed with work (which is rare, I’m not that important), I drop everything, hop in the pick-up, and run over immediately.

This text was sent near the end of September and I was, once again, anxious to see the harvest from a combine viewpoint. I parked next to the field, maneuvered across the spikey hazard of cut corn and scrambled up into the John Deere cab to watch a farmer work and pepper him (Brent, Mark or Wayne) with questions while photographing every element.

Brent loads corn into the grain truck. 
Rolling the tarp across the load... keep corn off the highway!
This series of photos shows Mark Newell - who kindly let me sit in the "instructor's seat" (ironic, no?) - using the combine's computer to determine where he is at the harvest process, the status of the field and an endless breakdown of the corn, right down to the moisture content. It's really quite incredible.

I’m always amazed by the efficiency of the heavy, wildly expensive farming machinery and the precision of computerized combines. Even more than that, I marvel at the synchronized team work of these farmers who have worked alongside one another for a lifetime. Though they communicate cab-to-cab via CB, everybody always seems to know what they are supposed to be doing and what is going to happen next without too much discussion. Unless there is a mad race to beat bad weather, harvest is mostly a low drama, highly-synchronized affair.

While Mark is running the combine - a massive John Deere that chews through a field like a hungry green monster - Brent is standing by with a smaller tractor that is pulling a grain loader. Once Mark's machine begins to fill up with corn, Brent pulls alongside with the loader, carefully lining up just so. Mark then swings out the auger (the long green tube on the side) and passes his load of corn off to Brent. All of this is done without anyone stopping, like passing the corn baton.

Then, Brent takes the corn load, swings out his auger, and dumps that load of corn into a waiting grain truck. That truck will then be driven to one of the farmer-owned grain bins (we have several here on the farm, already full) where the corn will be stored until it's time for it to be taken to the grain elevator, where it is sold to market.

Brent, pulling alongside Mark, with the loader.
“Farming” as Brent likes to say, “is more than just a profession, it’s something that’s in your blood.” 

Surely, there is a viral element at work here; even with my limited experience, I have caught a whiff of this truth. I don't know if it's all that rigorous outdoor doin’s, working with the seasons or genuinely creating something big from something little but it feels like a real job.

When Mark (one of Brent’s farming partners and my cousin) admitted, “Sometimes things get a little boring in the combine here with the auto-steer", I couldn’t help but recall the many client reports and useless 'perception rating' Excel spreadsheets I had put hours of my life into - hours I wasn't getting back.  I responded:

“I can honestly confirm to you that this view beats a cubicle view any day of the week.” 

He laughed, and over the roar of the harvest, replied, "Yep. I bet you're right." 


Maria said...

I will think of you when I eat fake nacho cheese next time

Heather Clisby said...

Ha! Thanks so much for honoring me with bright orange edible spackle.

Mullet Over said...

Its nice to see farmers harvesting corn after having such a rough year. Is the corn smaller or shorter after a low rain year? Does if impact the way the machines work. This is uber cool Heather.

Heather Clisby said...

I think there is a slightly smaller yield but because we are so far north, these fields weren't as heavily affected by the drought like in South Dakota or Colorado. There are some advantages of living at the 49th parallel at this is one of them.

Glad you liked the post!

Lavender Luz said...

So cool for me to see from the combine driver's seat. I'm only one generation removed from the farm (my my grew up on one) but I practically know nothing of importance about where my food comes from or how it comes into existence and to my table.

Thanks for this peek!

Heather Clisby said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lori. This summer has been a wake-up for me too. In addition to doing my own organic garden here and selling the goods at a Farmer's Market, this insight into Big Ag has been eye-opening, to say the least. It's not a simple thing like it used to be, that's for damn sure.