We live in rural southeastern Minnesota surrounded by corn, soybeans and friendly people. Both Mrs. T an I taught in the local high school when the majority of our students grew up on family farms. Today the farms are bigger, fewer and farther between. Smaller families and fewer farms mean declining school enrollment and hard times for small towns beyond easy driving distance to growing regional centers like Rochester with Mayo Clinic and IBM. Now retired we still follow the rhythms of the farming way of life among our neighbors and friends. Spring planting came early in 2015 with just the right amount of rain. Summer followed the same pattern and with an early harvest the
reports are of record crops and yields. Its not always that way though and bad years are also known.
Take 2009 for example. It was harvest time and me and my camera were invited to ride along with our friend and neighbor. Except it rained and it rained and the sun never appeared. Dick was smiling but it was kind of forced. The soybeans were waiting week after week and if they couldn’t be picked soon all kinds of problems would ensue.
When the moisture content is too high the elevators won’t accept the crop. The beans will begin to fall off the plants or mold will set in. Drying is not a good option because of not only the great expense but the beans will shatter reducing their value. Then it began to snow, compounding the whole situation. Even for Minnesota, this is not normal weather for October.
As the month turned to November, our most unpredictable weather time, it slowly improved.
Corn harvest should be beginning and all the local farmers were working furiously to catch up. The first fields being picked showed corn moisture at 35%. Fifteen or lower is the standard or drying is required. The price for propane is higher than ever and now shortages are being reported in Bluff Country and south into Iowa.. Farmers must stop the corn harvest with their hopper bins full until propane can be obtained.
It’s a beautiful November day when the phone rings and I hurry over to join Dick for the afternoon aboard the big combine. I never cease to be amazed at all the complicated technology. Satellites guide the machine, and screen and dials show vital information. Sometimes riding high above the field, looking out the vast windshield I can’t help but feeling that I’m riding along with Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.
This whole operation can be somewhat mesmerizing. Fortunately, other than taking an occasional picture, I don't have to keep particularly alert. The words about "spacious skies and amber waves of grain" keep running through my mind. Well, this grain is golden and its helps to feed and fuel the world.
Sometime later Dick has a combination frown & puzzled look. "Do you hear something", he asks. "Lots of noise," is the best I can come up with. He shuts down the machine and climbs out. I follow. Its turns out that one belt among many has twisted and is in danger of coming off the pulley. Its not a big deal yet but needs to be realigned before something worse happens. I twist and hold it, while Dick goes to the other side and slowly turns the pulley with a large bar. "Watch you fingers," I’m warned. Farming is still one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. All is well and we’re back in the cab.
There is some good news. The screens are showing what Dick says are "the highest yields ever." I’m surprised because much of the spring and early summer had been unseasonably cold. Everyone is surprised apparently. That’s farming though. Bigger, more efficient, higher costs, unpredictable markets and risk. "Kind of like Los Vegas," I ventured. Dick smiled, with a kind of wistful look, and shook his head only once. He didn’t say anything but I could almost hear him thinking..."damn right."
It's evening now and time for me to go. Great grandpa Bob is also calling it a day. He is "retired" now and at eighty-five only works the day shift. Sharon will be bringing supper out to the guys. They will continue the work on into the night. Probably not all night. though.. maybe ten or midnight. Then again tomorrow. First chores, then back to the fields for the harvest. So it goes here in the Corn Belt. Just another day on the the family farm.