It’s Kaitlyn again, reporting from the North America custom harvest run. Custom harvesters often work for the same farmers year after year, which allows us to visit the same towns annually. It is not uncommon to hear of a harvester cutting in the same place for a decade or more. We learn the good places to eat, the best fuel stops and of course, the establishments with the coldest drinks. We make friends who often feel like extended family, and every year it feels like we are returning to one of our homes when the wheat ripens in those towns.
Over lunch with the Kulhanek Harvesting crew last week, I learned that Shorty Kulhanek, owner and combine operator, has been on the harvest run “since he was little,” according to his wife, Donna. When I asked Donna what stop was Shorty’s favorite, her answer was a reminder of how many of us grow up in many harvest towns across the Midwest.
“I’d say Potter, Nebraska would be one of Shorty’s favorite stops,” Donna said. “He’s been going there since he was little and he knows everyone. Shorty knows the area and he really enjoys stopping in Potter every year.”
The “like family” reference shows up commonly among harvesters. Shane Shepherd, a truck driver for Shepherd Harvesting, says his favorite stop is Spearman, Texas because he “practically grew up there with all of the same people every summer. Those people are like family to me.”
Our customers mean a lot to harvesters. Harvesters enjoy cutting for good farmers, and it is great when we can keep the same jobs every year. My dad cut for the same farmer in Harper, Kansas for 30 years. When our farmer passed away, it was like losing a member of our extended harvest family.
Laramie DeBock, co-owner and combine operator at DeBock Harvesting, says his first stop on the wheat harvest is also his favorite. “My favorite stop is Olney, Texas,” Laramie said. “It’s our first stop so everybody’s excited to get to the field and our farmers are the nicest guys we work for all year. They are very loyal to us and it’s a great joy to work for them.”
While the people are usually one of the deciding factors of a harvester’s favorite stop, that’s not always the case. Jason Wagner, owner and combine operator for Wagner Harvesting, says, “I like all of the people everywhere I go, but my favorite place is probably Onida, South Dakota because of the big open fields.”
When it comes down to me, I’d say Oakley, Kansas is my favorite stop on the Nelson Farms custom run. I can remember making the trip south with my mom and sister to visit Dad in Oakley when I was little. Staying in our camper was cool as a kid and the campground we stayed at had mini-golf and a pool. Plus if the crew was rained out of the field, we would all go exploring at the Monument Rocks. When I was old enough to go on harvest, we were still staying at the same campground as when I was little. We were also cutting for the same farmer. Every time I pass through that area, I make a stop to see our customer and some of the friends I’ve made there. Oakley is just one of the many homes I have across the states we cut through and I’m sure I’m not the only harvester kid who feels like that.
Perhaps it’s traveling for work or being a part of the harvest – Tell us more about your home-away-from-home experiences and what is special about them.
While with the AGCO Parts Tech Van in Billings, MT, I had the privilege of spending two days in the field with Kuhn Harvesting.
Darrell Kuhn of Lakin, KS is no stranger to satisfying customers. “Ambitious” is the word his son, Ben, uses to describe Darrell. From a custom hay operation to an equipment dealership, Darrell Kuhn has been there and done that — successfully. Five years ago, Kuhn Harvesting was started and from the looks of it, Darrell has never looked back.
“Harvest is a crazy lifestyle,” Kuhn says. “But I love it.”
Each year, Kuhn and his crew load six combines and head south to Wichita Falls, TX. For the 2011 harvest, however, two combines of a different color made the trip south. Enticed by the light weight, bigger bins, and two-stage cleaning process, Kuhn started transitioning from green combines to Gleaner S77s.
“Our other machines are heavy,” Kuhn says. “The Gleaners are lighter to reduce compaction, and that’s what no-till farmers want. They don’t want weight on their fields.”
Besides the weight factor, Kuhn says he sees a better sample of wheat from the Gleaners, which makes his farmers happy. Plus, Kuhn says the Gleaners are consistently cutting faster than the other machines, translating into more grain harvested. At times, the Gleaners are running two miles per hour faster, which is a very significant difference in the field.
“We run faster, we cut more wheat, and we can store more,” says Ben, who operates one of the Gleaners. “These combines are also easier to service so we can spend more time in the field.”
Based on the Gleaners’ performance this season, Kuhn says he is planning on completing the switch to Gleaner S77 combines for the 2012 harvest.
“The farmers we cut for have been impressed by the Gleaners,” Kuhn says. “I have been too, which is why we are going with all Gleaners next year.”
While Kuhn Harvesting may be switching colors, Darrell remains focused on customer satisfaction.
“Our farmers trust us with their land and their crops,” Kuhn says. “We have one farmer who thinks we do a better job than he does.”
And that’s why Darrell harvests: the people.
“Sometimes I get disgusted by the government and the regulations,” Kuhn says. “But I don’t know what I’d do if I missed out on the relationships I’ve built.”
What made you switch to an AGCO brand from another brand?
We all have our place in harvest, from the South African man here in the United States who supports his family back home, to the consumer who might not always think of the hard work put in by so many people to make the toast they eat every morning. To make the custom harvest run happen, many people must play their role and every now and then, we take the time to show our appreciation.
Nelson Farms (my dad’s crew) just finished up harvest in Pierre, SD on Friday, August 5. It’s been a longstanding tradition with my family to have an appreciation supper for our farmers and crew at Cattleman’s Steakhouse in Pierre. This year, we were glad to have the AGCO Parts Tech Van crew join us at Cattleman’s. The crew from the tech van does a lot for the harvesters and it isn’t often they see how much they are appreciated. Hopefully, one of the best steaks in the country will be a reminder that we depend on and appreciate the work they do for us.
I look forward to the time at Cattleman’s every year, not only for the amazing steak, but also to see everyone relax and enjoy the company. The stop in Pierre lasts two to three weeks and consists of the most wheat acres our combines will harvest in one place throughout the year. The crew runs hard, and by the time the last acre is harvested, everyone is ready to be done.
While my time on harvest isn’t over yet, I couldn’t help but feel the relief of harvest in Pierre being completed. In years past, the end of Pierre’s harvest marked the end of my time with the crew. Every person differs on the feelings they have when harvest is over, but for me, it’s relief mixed with an unquenchable hunger, one that keeps me coming back year after year. That hunger reminds me that I’m a harvester, whether I’m running the tractor and grain cart or tagging along with the tech van crew on service calls. There is a passion that goes along with harvest. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than looking over a field of golden wheat stubble and knowing that you’ve done your part in feeding the world.
We all play our roles, but it takes a special breed to gamble on the harvest run. Custom harvesters drive thousands of miles, hauling machines that cost more than many houses, just to harvest a crop that may or may not be there when they arrive. Harvesters battle weather, breakdowns, fuel costs, lost family time, uncomfortable camper beds, and lots of fast food lunches, but they keep doing it year after year. And that’s something we should all be thankful for.
How do you show your appreciation to your customers, employees and service technicians?
Speaking of appreciation, the AGCO Parts Tech Van crew would like to thank James Cook from Ag World Equipment in Kinistino, Saskatchewan, Canada for our awesome Gleaner Super Series t-shirts. I delivered them to the tech van crew in Billings, MT on Saturday, and they were very excited to show them off.
The tech van located in Pierre moved to Bismarck, ND on Monday, August 8 and will be located at the Butler Machinery Company throughout the rest of wheat harvest.
While following the North American custom harvest run in the AGCO Parts Tech Van, we met Bill Wright, a custom harvester from Manchester, OK. Bill is a Gleaner man and he has been for the last 50 years. “I started harvesting with my dad at age 11, running Gleaner A models,” Wright said. “We’ve always had Gleaners.”
It is hard to change brands after so many years, according to Wright. He has learned the machines throughout the years and is comfortable running them.“Fifty years has been a pretty good run with Gleaner,” he said “Knowing the machines has kept me from switching brands.” Besides familiarity, Wright is still running Gleaners because of the in-the-field support offered by the AGCO Parts Tech Van. “The tech van has always taken good care of me and my combines”.
Currently, Wright is operating two R66s on his harvest run. Bill still sits in the operator seat of one combine, and his grandson, Nick, runs the other. “It’s been nice having Nick around,” Wright said. “He’s been around harvesting his whole life.”
The Wrights begin their harvest run in Seymour, TX and end the wheat season in Montana after six more stops in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota. After wheat, the crew usually combines corn, sorghum and soybeans at home in Manchester, OK and in Dighton, KS. However, the weather this year has made harvest difficult. “Nothing’s been easy this year,” Wright said. “Worst luck we’ve had is the weather though. We’ve had good luck with our combines.”
One thing is certain with Bill Wright; he doesn’t plan to change brands anytime soon. “Well, we did try one other brand quite a few years ago,” Wright said. “But we didn’t get along too well with that one.”
Do you know anyone who bleeds Gleaner silver like Bill Wright?
Over 53 million acres of wheat were planted in the United States for the 2010/2011 growing season, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In order to harvest those acres, farmers often hire custom harvesters – men and women who own their own combines and are paid to harvest the crops of others.
While wheat is not the only crop harvesters encounter, it makes up the majority of custom acres. Custom harvesters follow the wheat northward as the crops ripen, often starting in Texas in May, ending in Montana, North Dakota or Canada in August to September, and making several stops between.
Custom harvesting operations include combines, grain trucks and, sometimes, tractors pulling grain carts. Operations vary in size with some consisting of only a single combine and others with 20 or more combines.
These combines see hundreds of hours and thousands of acres throughout the season. While machines are serviced daily by the crews, combines of every brand experience breakdowns due to the conditions experienced on harvest.
“Although we have superior products, every piece has a limit, especially in the tough conditions our machines operate in,” said Todd Davis, AGCO Parts Tech Van supervisor. “Custom harvesters push their combines to that limit every day to achieve maximum productivity, efficiency and profit.”
That is where the AGCO Parts Tech Vans step in to help. With two mobile trailers, the tech van crews follow the harvest, providing parts and repair services to the operators of Gleaner, Massey Ferguson and Challenger combines.
“During harvest, we provide in-the-field service that is comparable to no other manufacturers in the industry,” Davis said.
By having the tech van near the action, harvesters are able to reduce time and money lost due to breakdowns.
“Harvesters call us as the problem occurs, and we get out there as soon as we can,” Davis said. “We have four service trucks that are dispatched from the tech van trailer to assist custom harvesters with problems they cannot repair themselves.”
The AGCO Parts Tech Van arrived Sunday, July 24, 2011 at Butler Machinery Company in Pierre, SD and the crew continues to follow the wheat harvest northward. The second tech van is scheduled to move to Billings, MT on Saturday, July 30, 2011. The Tech Van is open from 7 a.m. US CST to 7 p.m. US CST every day of the week.
Has the AGCO Parts Tech Van ever assisted you with your machinery? Tell us your story on our Facebook page or follow @AGCOcorp on Twitter. For more information about the tech van, visit AGCOparts.com or ask your local dealer.