Change is the only constant, and I’m reminded of that this fall by the Upper Midwest grain harvest.
When I was a farm kid, small grains dominated. Many farmers grew other crops, too, of course, but wheat and barley were the stars, at least in central North Dakota where I grew up. Small grains typically are harvested in August, so the month became an all-dash to bring in the crop. If the combine could roll, it did.
Some farm-town schools, including the one I attended, had temporary “harvest schedules” in which shortened classes began and finished earlier in the day, allowing farm kids to go home and help. A great deal for the town kids with no connection to harvest, not so good for farm kids like me who went home to shovel grain and breathe barley dust.
Over time, though, many farmers diversified, adding other crops, including corn, soybeans and sunflowers, that are harvested in September, October, November and even December. Harvest has been spread out, the August dash becoming a multi-month marathon. School “harvest schedules” are just a memory.
Harvest has seen other changes, too.
An extension service expert once lamented to me that harvest has lost many of its virtues. He praised the social and nutritional benefits of old-time harvests, when neighbors worked side-by-side in threshing crews and ate high-quality food prepared by farm wives. Today, farmers often work alone and eat fast food, he said.
OK, I’ll grant that. On the other hand, modern harvest is less demanding physically. Today, farmers need to understand and utilize technology, not possess a strong back and constitution.
Farmers will grow — and need to grow — the crops that give them the best chance of succeeding financially. Raising a variety of crops adds diversification that reduces risk and, in the long run, enhances profitability. For better or worse (or both), it lengthens harvest, too.
This much I’m sure of: dash or marathon, harvest remains exhilerating and exhausting, draining and demanding. There’s nothing quite like it — and I’m happy to be part of it. Especially since I’m pushing a computer keyboard, not a grain shovel.
Drop me a line with your thoughts on harvest.