ISA farmer-member on his farm

(Photo: Joseph Hopper/Iowa Soybean Association)

5 tips to prepare for the busy season

September 14, 2023 | Joseph Hopper

Harvest is one of the most exciting times for a farmer, but the busy season is no easy feat. There can be plenty of challenges along the way. Just like every farm is unique, so is a farmer’s pre-harvest preparations. Morey Hill, who farms near Madrid, explains what he thinks about before harvest.

1. Preventative maintenance

Without a combine, there’s little chance of a harvest. Making sure the combine is ready is at the top of the list; kicking the tires and checking fluids is part of the process.

Hill generally starts preparing shortly after the Iowa State Fair in mid-late August. “I try to remember if we had any problems when we finished up last year and what needs to be taken care of,” Hill says. “I check everything over.”

2. Expect the unexpected

No matter how well you prepare, things can still go sideways and leave a farmer with some downtime as repairs get underway.

“Everything’s ready until I get in the field,” Hill says.

Specifically, he spends extra time preparing the bean head on the combine before starting soybean harvest specifically. “You’re always going to knock out a sickle section or couple guards, so I always have that on hand,” Hill says. “But there’s always something no matter how well you expect things. There might be a belt with a crack that I missed; this stuff just happens.”

3. Storage

Knowing where the crop is headed after harvest is just as important as harvesting crops. “After the combine, think about storage,” Hill says.

Maybe you’ve got some pre-sold that will go to the elevator out of the field, but what will you do with the rest of it? Put it in the bin? Store it elsewhere? Take it to the co-op?

“I’ve got older bins I can use, but I’ve also got prepaid storage at the elevator. So I’ll fill that up, and hopefully, I’ve got overage to put in the bin,” Hill says. “We’ll see how that goes.”

4. Eat and sleep

A self-described “breakfast guy,” Hill makes sure there’s fuel in his tank during harvest. He takes a brown bag lunch from home and takes breaks when necessary.

“If I’m in the combine or at home, I tell myself I don’t have to go 100 miles per hour,” Hill says. “I can have my lunch and take a 15-minute break, if needed. Unless we’ve got a weather issue coming in or we’re trying to finish a field, I seldom work much past dark. I figure I put a 12-hour day in anyway; I don’t need to go any longer. That’s when things can get ugly. Stuff breaks in the dark.”

5. Balancing act

Harvest can be as stressful for farmers as it is exciting. Hill says it’s important to keep a solid perspective as the busy season begins.

“You’ve got maybe two months of a grind,” Hill says. “But after that, you’ve got some downtime, the winter to recoup and regenerate, so to speak. We never want to wash out, but if we get a little rain during the harvest, it’s nice to take a day or two break. I try to keep in perspective that I don’t have to get it all done yesterday. Have your mind set and focused. Yes, this is your livelihood, and you have to do it right, but you have to take time for yourself too. If I don’t feel right physically or mentally, then I’m not worth a thing. You’ve got to find that balance, which is different for everybody.”