Rocking around the clock on the combine

Farming Matters September 2021
The highs and lows of harvest 2021 seem a good place to start this time. It’s definitely not a vintage harvest, but there are much better yields of grain than last year. Oh, the agony and ecstasy of harvest! It marks the culmination of a year of hard work battling against the elements. When we plant the crops, we have no idea what the final outcome will be. The agony comes with harvesting a crop that fails to meet expectations and the ecstasy in seeing a bountiful harvest swelling the grain stores to bursting point. In the latter situation that’s normally when I wake up, after grabbing a few hours of sleep between long shifts on the combine. Yes, it was another dream.
Back to the reality of harvest; fifteen hour days with at least twelve hours sat on the combine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad place to be, airconditioned, self steering and a barrage of displays to monitor and adjust the machine. Let’s not forget the all important integrated sound system. There are now special playlists on Spotify for us combine drivers, so we are literally rocking around the clock. The only time I get off the machine during the day is for a call of nature or a breakdown. With an onboard fridge I eat on the move. Gone are the days when you used to stop for a picnic in the field with all the workers gathering for a break. There are just three of us here now, looking after 750 hectares of crops, so we simply don’t have the time. Things have changed hugely since I first started out on my career in agriculture. We did have air conditioning of sorts, because the combine didn’t have a cab at all! You were either roasted alive or sat wrapped up in as many clothes as you had plus the odd sack. The dust, it got everywhere. We used to call the masks we wore bricks and boulders because that’s about all they kept out. There was much more of a community feel about harvest back then. When I started my career on a 400 hectare farm there were 9 of us working there, so when we stopped for a break from the dust to eat our meals it was often a very enjoyable pause in the drudgery of the day. Would I go back and swap my state of the art combine with its 30 foot wide header for the open top 10 foot wide version? Absolutely not!
It has been a very late start to harvest this year and it is quite likely that by the time you read this we will still be going. The cold, dry April set everything back by a week to ten days and it has never really caught up. May and June were pretty grim with 90 mm of rainfall in both months and very little sunshine. July and August whilst not being quite as wet, have not provided us with much respite. Harvest has been a stop – go affair, with more stop than go. We can’t harvest in the rain and we need to get the grain at the right moisture content to safely put it into store. We do have a dryer for the grain, but it still has to have time to dry out naturally so that the combine can physically cut and process the crop without blocking up. Also, the gas that we use to dry the grain pushes up our costs, we already operate on wafer thin margins and it is not good for our carbon footprint.
At harvest we not only gather in our crops, but we also now reap an increasing amount of valuable data. As the jolly green giant ambles up the field combining the crop, it is constantly monitoring the yield of grain using GPS. This then creates a map of each field as shown in the above photo. I can then use this information to target applications to the next crop according to its needs. It is such a huge change since I first started in farming all those years ago, but it shows that we are an industry which is constantly changing and adapting to circumstances. We absolutely will not let you down and with the right government policy we will continue to put food on your tables.
If you are interested in older machinery don’t forget the Henley Farm & Country Show on 11th September and the ploughing match that we are hosting this year on 3rd October.

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