KIOWA, Kan. — The caravan of semis, tractors, trailers and campers made its way from Bowdle, S.D., to Kiowa, Kan., as Hoffman Harvesting and their crew headed to the starting point for the 2019 harvest season on June 7. Now, as they get settled into their campground, they wait for the fields to dry out.
“It looks like it's going to be a good crop,” said Jada Bulgin of Hoffman Harvesting during a recent phone interview. “Whatever I'm seeing, it looks good.”
Will they be able to get in the field?
“Thankfully, we have four wheel drive and a good tow rope, so we’ll have to get in there and we will, it just might be not as easily done as some years when it's drier,” she explained.
As of June 10, the wheat in the area was not quite ready for harvest. It still had some green, so the crew is looking at getting started on some canola, which is ready. The only hold-up is waiting for the fields to dry out.
Every year, the Hoffmans like to get to Kiowa a few days ahead of when they will actually start working. It gives them time to get settled in and put the finishing touches on their equipment.
“We had to get the duals put on the machines and they have to get calibrated,” Jada said. “We’ll put numbers on the machines and radios in the machines, then we can cut.”
The combines were not actually part of the Hoffman’s caravan. They came direct from the John Deere factory.
It is not every year that they start with new machines. It all depends on the number of hours on the combines and the amount of time left on the warranty.
“That’s what is nice about trading in. You always have warranty on the machines, so that plays a lot into our decision,” she said. “A lot of times, I go on a parts run and I never know what I'm going to get. Sometimes it can be a little O-ring up to like a huge part that fills up the whole back of my pickup.”
When it comes to a combine, there are a lot of parts and pieces that can need replacing. Those parts can really add up in costs over the season. Having the machines under warranty gives piece of mind, as does having dual tires on the combines, particularly in a wet season. However, they also add labor.
The dual tires have to come off whenever the equipment is moved down the road. They use spacers to make this a little easier, but it is illegal for them to move with the duals on.
The Hoffmans will be moving constantly all summer. They will spend about a week or two in a given location, depending on how big of an area it is for them.
While some custom harvest crews like to stay in hotels, the Hoffman prefer campers and campgrounds.
“What I like about my camper is I get to take my stuff along. It makes me not a very light packer,” said Jada. “But we like them because everything's here and then we can pick up our wheels and our home keeps moving with us.”
There are three campers, two for the crew and one for Jada and Leon.
Jada and Leon’s camper will not only serve as the main office for Hoffman Harvesting, but also the main cafeteria for the crew.
“I usually supply them with meat and other stuff to make a meal to take out to the field and then I make them a big meal at suppertime,” she said. “It feels like a family because we work together, we play together and we spend a lot of time together.”
A crew that gets along and is able to have fun together is key to a successful harvest season, particularly in a year where things are already behind.
“Another issue is a lot of harvesters are still in Texas, playing in the mud down there,” she said. “Harvesters are going to be a little behind this year.”