Thursday, June 30, 2016

Road Trip: Wheat Harvest Version

My first job on the farm was driving a pickup while my dad picked up fence posts. I was in elementary school at the time. Long before I had my driver's license, I moved trucks around in the harvest field. These were the days before my dad had a grain cart to haul the grain from the combine to the truck. So I'd move the truck closer to the wheat so my dad didn't have to go as far to dump the bin load each round.

When I got my farm permit, I drove the wheat trucks to the Iuka Co-op. Our hired man, Ed, was my patient navigator the first year. He taught me the fine points of waiting in line, unrolling the tarp, how to dump the truck and instructions in the fine art of elevator etiquette. But, after that, I made dozens of trips to the elevator during wheat harvest each year.

When Randy and I were first married, I worked at The Hutchinson News, so I didn't drive the truck, except on weekends. After I "retired" from that job and the kids got a little older, I was back in the driver's seat again.

However, I've never driven our semi. This is the second wheat harvest we've had it. I know I could learn. But we've had a hired man available to do it, so my job has transitioned to go-fer and cook.

The other evening, after one of our rain delays during harvest, our hired man wasn't back yet, so Randy asked if I'd like to go with him as he drove the semi with a load of wheat to Zenith.
It's definitely a different perspective, viewing the familiar Zenith Road from a loftier perch.
We arrived at our destination - our favorite prairie skyscraper.
Randy unrolled the tarp.
He pulled the semi onto the scales at the co-op office, where they weigh the loaded truck. With the orange probe, they get a sample of the wheat and test for quality, including weight, moisture, protein and foreign matter.
This was taken in 2015. This trip, I was inside the truck cab.
Through the rearview mirror, we could see that they wanted us to take the truck to location "B" - inside the elevator. 
These elevators were designed long before there were big semi trucks. It's a tight squeeze.
If I were the driver, I would much rather dump at the outside pit, location "C."
Photo from 2015 - the outside dump location
I captured Randy's shadow in the mirror behind us as he waited for the wheat to flow into the elevator pit. After so many harvests, I like finding different images that tell the story.
Photo from 2015, showing co-op guys opening the hatches.
Once the truck is in position, the co-op workers open the hatches underneath the truck. The semi truck is emptied through gravity. (We also have a tandem truck that has a lift to dump the grain. For photos of that, click HERE.)
With the grain unloaded, Randy pulled back onto the scales for an empty weight. We also pick up the ticket which gives a record of how much wheat we delivered that trip and its quality. 
Then, it was back to the field to fill 'er up again.
The farmer or landlord pays a storage fee to the co-op based on the amount of time the grain was stored before being sold. Then, it belongs to the co-op. When the co-op sells it, most is trucked out of the elevator to the buyer. (In the past, rail travel helped move a lot of grain, too, but most of it is trucked these days, at least in this area.)

FYI:  When I pulled up a blog post from last year, I saw that wheat was $5.15 on June 23. Wheat closed at $3.15 on the board at Zenith yesterday. 

Thankfully, we were able to start cutting again yesterday afternoon after our Tuesday rain delay. We had to move to a different location. It is a slow process, since the wheat is down fairly badly and he's still having to battle some mud. But the wheat yields are still above average, though quality has suffered with the rains.

Still, we're glad to be back at it! Every swath puts us a little closer to done.


  1. Ouch. That is a huge drop in price. The fluctuations of commodity prices is really frustrating, and that the price is always at its lowest when you are delivering the grain at harvest.

    Good on you for getting your truck licence. I have never got mine... very deliberately I might add. Although I know how to drive all the trucks over the years and do so on farm I've never been interested in doing the long hauls that were so often required for our hay deliveries. I leave that to the people who love that job.

    1. I don't have a CDL, so I couldn't drive for anyone else. After we got our semi, Randy and our previous hired man got their CDLs.

  2. How times have changed.
    I'm at present in sugar cane country and the harvest was also delayed by rain, however this should increase the sugar content.
    Good luck for the rest of your harvest.

    1. Our quality goes down the longer it sits in the field. But there's not a thing we can do about it. So we will cut it when we can.