The late planting season meant operators knew they had to prepare for a late harvest. For those picking other people’s fields, it leads to some careful management.
Custom harvesters in Iowa said they know what kind of season they face — they will have to work quickly as they try to beat the cold weather. Mike Priebe, manager at M&S Farms in Storm Lake, Iowa, said the key to this harvest season is being ready when the crop and ground allows.
“When we go in, we don’t delay,” he said. “When the crop is fit and ready to go, we are ready to go. We aren’t holding things up. The last thing we want is to have a customer wait on us.”
Ben Riensche, owner of Blue Diamond Farming Company in Jesup, Iowa, said there are two ways to manage doing custom work: Focusing on custom work when your operation is complete or prioritizing the customer.
“We are a larger farm and we are spread out more. We tend to do the work when we are in the area,” he said. “If we are doing our field next to the custom field, we will do them both.”
He also said there are possibilities for altering plans depending on weather. Riensche, who manages his own farming operation, said if his own field is wet or the grain bins are full, he may head out and work on another farm he is helping harvest.
“You aren’t going to endear yourself to the client if they are the residual job,” Riensche said. “The minute somebody else is available sooner, they are probably going to gravitate to the first operator.”
Priebe said his group has been able to prepare for the late harvest and will rely on efficiency.
“We are prepared as well as we can be. We can harvest a lot in a short period of time,” he said. “If we get those windows of opportunity where it’s fit, dry and ready to go, we can get in the field and harvest quite a bit.”
While speed is important as days get crossed off the calendar, Priebe said making sure they don’t cause field problems for their clients is equally as crucial. Compaction in wet conditions is something they try to minimize as that can affect long-term yields.
Riensche said one of the main reasons he made custom work a part of his operation is due to the cost of equipment. Finding a way to get the most out of a machine is crucial.
“I priced a new John Deere combine a week ago and they wanted close to $450,000 for it,” Riensche said. “Unfortunately, a lot of these implements are lumpy assets. You can’t buy 1.5 combines or half a sprayer, if that’s what you need. If you have surplus capacity, it gets really expensive to own.
“What do you do to bear the costs of the extra half of a combine you really don’t need? There’s a market for that: go help a neighbor.”
He said going out and performing some custom work, if possible, is a good way to make a few connections and develop a long-term plan. Developing relationships with farmers late in their career or close to leaving the business may open up doors.
However, there are some risks when it comes to performing custom work, Reinsche said. If your rates are not properly calculated to bring in some profit, the custom farmer is going to be using up productive hours on their machine for little to no benefit.
With potential wet weather set to come across the Midwest to open October, flashes of 2018’s harvest are fresh in the minds of both operators as they look to pick the 2019 crop.
“We need some more heat units and growing degrees days to get the corn crop to full maturity,” Priebe said. “We need Mother Nature to work with us a little bit. We are ready to go, but we have only harvested a little bit because of the weather.”