Farmers around the region are in the midst of small grain harvest, and not too long from now the combines will be rolling through and picking up fall season crops.
It’s an exciting time for farmers – the culmination of a long season where they finally get to reap what they sow as the year comes to a close.
It’s such an important time of year on the farming calendar, and with that can come a variety of emotions – excitement, anxiousness or in some cases, worry.
“For us, we’re usually excited,” said Adam Bettenhausen, who farms with his family in the south central North Dakota town of Wishek, where they grow wheat, canola, corn, soybeans and sunflowers.
Bettenhausen takes pride in being “in tune” with what’s out in his fields. He handles all his own crop scouting, so he’s familiar with exactly what’s going on out in the fields well before they bring out any machines to pull the crop off.
“In a tough year, when you’re not really looking forward to (harvest), it can kind of weigh on a person, but you still have a job to do. You have to go take it off, even if it’s a poor crop, you have to go out there and take it off.
“I’ve always grown up enjoying harvest and running the combine. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve always looked forward to it,” he added.
There’s a lot to get done prior to harvest, especially when it comes to making sure all the equipment is maintained and ready to roll.
“I’m pretty particular about having our equipment ready,” Bettenhausen said. “We go through all of our equipment and make sure everything has the proper fluids, has gone through the whole maintenance list, is all greased up and that everything is in working condition.
“All the combines, the grain cart and tractor, we wash the windows, clean out the cabs, and make sure everything is in tip-top shape before we even start. Same goes for the trucks, augers and grain bins. There’s a lot to do,” he explained.
Harvest is all about timing, and Bettenhausens operate under the philosophy that once the conditions are right, you want to be able to be rolling non-stop.
“It’s the most efficient way you can get the job done,” he said. “We do all that prep work to make sure absolutely everything is ready that we can conceivably do ahead of time, that way once the conditions are good, the wheels can just roll.”
No matter how prepared farmers are for harvest, there are still concerns. For Bettenhausen, it’s the time crunch involved with getting the crop off the field in time.
“You don’t want to be stuck out there,” he said. “This year for example, harvest is just dragging and dragging. The longer the crop is out in the field, the more things that can happen to it. A hail storm can come at any time, and if you’re not ready and you didn’t start harvesting until a couple days later, and then that storm comes in and takes the crop out, that’s kind of on you at that point.”
While timeliness is the biggest thing for Bettenhausen, storage is also a concern for farmers this time of year. There’s a crop out there to take off, but they need space to put it.
“In years with a big crop, like this year, storage is a factor,” he said. “We’ll get through small grain harvest no problem, but we’ll have to do some serious figuring to fit the rest of our crop into storage and figure out how we’ll do our marketing plan. Every year is different.”
Between the prep work and the pressure to get the crop off, it’s all worth it if farmers know there’s a payoff in the end. When doubt creeps in on that side of the ledger, that’s when things can get tough.
Commodity prices remain depressed and farmers are prepping for another year of trying to wait out the markets, looking for any opportunity to take advantage of a rally.
“(Prices) are not good,” Bettenhausen said. “Like a lot of guys, we’re going to fill every corner of every storage building we have and haul to town as little as we can.”
Of course, farmers have bills to pay, so some of the crop will be sold to take care of finances, but the rest will be stored in hopes of better prices in the future.
“Corn is better than it was, but a lot of people feel there is potential there for a pretty good rally,” he said. “Everything else, honestly, is pretty depressing.”
Markets are cyclical and Bettenhausen believes there will be opportunities in the future, he just doesn’t know when.
“I think we’ll bounce back, but I don’t know if the bounce will be what a lot of people are looking for. There will be a better opportunity down the line, but it’s just about holding out for that opportunity and pulling the trigger while you’re at that opportunity and not hoping for more than you’re going to get,” he concluded.