I engaged in one of the ‘Sexiest activities in the world,’” said the man sitting in the rear passenger side. “I wish there was a way to bottle that.” He was talking about combining, and the four of us were on our way to Big Iron in Fargo, North Dakota.
There’s too much residue from my past urban life to agree with his assessment. But harvest is a rewarding season, and operating our Case 8010 Axial Flow was pretty close to what the Big Iron backbencher was getting at.
Domain Hard Red Spring wheat is a stalwart variety on my farm. There have been whispers of a change, but you’ll have to hang tight for that conclusion. Carberry has been mentioned.
Harvest went well; yields were average to good. But we dealt with lodging, and for the first year ever — or at least the first one in a long time — we did not swath. The idea of straight-heading wheat that was lying on the ground and had been for quite some time had us scratching our heads. Should we swath? Should we desiccate due to the potentially high levels of green stocks in those low-lying clumps? Do we keep header in fixed position or in flex?
We increased our nitrogen rates last fall, hoping to raise protein levels. It worked. But it also made our wheat stand very dense, which, combined with a few windy days in early development, caused most of the field to topple under its own weight.
There were hiccups at the start. But there usually are, I understand. Flex mode was the answer, we learned from other farmers. The header gently followed the contours of the field, leaving virtually no stubble and picking up sections we had long given up on. And we soon realized there was no need to spray.
The sentiment on Day 1 was “we should have swathed.” This had support from both my father and me. We capped at two and change miles per hour on the combine and the auger on the header was giving us grief. We longed for the ease of the pick-up header. Day 2 we took less of a hard line. The auger was working well, save for a few clangy fingers. By Day 3, after every clang and clunk was fixed, we were straight-heading boosters.
Modern day threshing
I used my thumb and index finger to thresh wheat this year. The toggle, I think it’s yellow, that engages the largest and most expensive machine I have ever driven is tiny. It’s about the diametre of a soybean, less than an inch high, and only needs to move about a quarter inch. This is a direction I didn’t see machinery going when I was a child, especially not combines. The hydrostatic lever, ergonomic and smooth, is also a marvel of technological complexity that for some reason seems odd in such a large, brute machine; perhaps a better fit for a sports car. Then there’s the monitor. I’ve programmed my grandma’s remote before, but this whole driving newer combines thing is something entirely different and foreign.
Adult friends, people in their 30s, visit my wife and me on the farm. And these people — professionals, mature — want nothing more than to sit in the driver’s seat of the combine. The ones with small children have an excuse, but many don’t. And it’s just as hard to get them out.
It was new to the farm when I moved back. And the first time I was left alone to operate this mammoth thing, the combine, I felt as if there was no doubt I was meant to be a farmer. I was on top of the world. Until I wasn’t.
The augers on most combines extend past the back of the machine a good distance. This is something I was warned about. Five minutes of threshing left in the day, just a small test plot, when I turned to start last row. I backed up a touch to square up, and started driving forward. I watched an entire irrigation boom collapse to the ground in my rear-view mirror. The auger was pushed in, crimped, and the geometry of its pivot point on the combine shifted. I kinked the irrigation boom.
Stepping out of the combine to make the call was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a while. My dad understood, and wasn’t upset.
Harvest is the culmination of toil and decisions made, good or bad. It is the best of times, and can be the worst. But even then, even when it seemed like it couldn’t get worse, there is no season like harvest. †