By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
With bumper wheat harvest winding down for farmers in the area, I’m thankful for the success of the crop and the price it will command but glad I’m not making my living directly off the amber waves of grain.
For years, my family depended on wheat harvest as a major source of income, though. Dad had wheat crops of his own before he quit farming and even went back to it for a few years later in his life. Mostly our part in the wheat harvest came through Dad’s custom harvest business.
Our fortunes still rested on the harvest but it wasn’t our crop subject to bugs, rust or hail. If a patch he had agreed to harvest was blown down or hailed out, dad could move on to the next field and still make a dollar. The poor guy farming the place took all the risks and seldom did the cards turn completely in his favor.
If the harvest was good, then the market would be down. If the market was decent, then drought, disease or weather would conspire to wrest financial success from his grasp.
You always heard the stories about someone’s dad or granddad who cashed in on a wheat crop in a big way — paid off the home place and bought two more farms with the proceeds. I don’t remember seeing that while dad was in the business. Some of the smarter guys did come out ahead if they rested on hard work and the law of averages, though.
What I do remember are phone calls from nervous farmers to dad in the evening before harvest began. They would be certain their crop would test out dry enough to cut and want to know if Dad could have a machine there in the morning to give it a try. Usually when he got off the phone he would be muttering that he had driven by that patch yesterday and it was still green as a gourd.
Later in the season farmers would track him down in whatever field we were cutting to visit about how quick we would be done where we were cutting. Invariably, the farmer had seen the weather forecast for the next week and it didn’t look good.
If Dad was on the combine, he didn’t necessarily shut down to go see who was in a pickup he didn’t recognize, because time was money. If they wanted to talk they usually needed to get out and ride a round with him.
Knowing how impatient my dad could be, I don’t know how he ever managed to placate all those nervous wheat farmers. He could be pretty short if they kept bugging him, but he did a good job and worked quickly and they all knew he had no problem pulling out of an uncut field if he’d had a bellyful of whining. I think most of them danced right up to the line and stopped just short of making him mad.
He knew what they were experiencing, though, and I think his empathy of their situation allowed him to take a lot more than he normally would have and he would do everything he could to keep a customer happy.
I can’t operate a combine and I don’t know much about growing wheat. I did work for my dad several summers in wheat harvest driving a truck though, and it gave me an appreciation for the heartaches and dreams of a High Plains wheat farmer.
The days were long — real long — and hot, monotonous hours of waiting for a load or waiting in line at the elevator would be interrupted by a mad frenzy of repair work when a machine broke down.
I learned the importance of keeping everything maintained and getting things ready for the harvest. I also learned the value of keeping a good steady pace for man and machine — getting the most performance possible without being too rough on the equipment.
Fields of gold — in life and farming — can only be harvested if you’re well prepared.
Dad prepared us well.