By Kansas Farm Bureau Columnist John Schlageck
Long hours, a flurry of activity, less-than-ideal weather conditions and work involving large machinery combine to make wheat harvest a potentially dangerous period.
To say farmers are busy during this time would be an understatement. Try to call one after 7 a.m. or before 10 p.m. and you’ll be wasting your time – they’re not home. They’re in the field or shop preparing for harvest.
Wheat harvest marks the pinnacle of nearly a year’s effort to produce this crop. During harvest, farmers and custom cutters work long, hard hours. Fifteen-minute meal breaks are about the only real time off in days that often stretch 14 hours. If weather conditions cooperate, cutting usually begins about 9 a.m. and continues until midnight, or when the grain becomes too moist or too tough to cut. People and machines are pushed to their limits.
While every machine – combine, truck, grain cart, tractor or auger – provides its own unique hazards, operator stress or error account for the majority of harvest accidents. Years of safety features built into these machines are useless without operator safety. Exceed human limitations and accidents are bound to follow.
Operator knowledge and attitude remain the key to a smooth, well-oiled wheat harvest. A safe operator knows his skills, limitations and condition, both physical and emotional.
The safety-conscious operator knows his equipment, its condition, capacities, limitations, hazards and safety equipment. Such an operator is constantly monitoring field and weather conditions.
In Kansas, thousands of acres of wheat add to the pressure of slicing through those acres before hail or windstorm destroys the bountiful crop. With this added pressure comes the desire to take chances, short cuts and extend working hours. Such behavior only adds to fatigue and high levels of stress and tension.
Remember, harvest will take its toll if you don’t take breaks. Eating balanced meals, even if you only take 15 minutes is important.
Stop the machine. Crawl off and relax a few minutes while you’re eating.
Drink plenty of water, tea or other cold liquids during the hot, dry days of wheat harvest. Jump out of your machine for such breaks at least every hour.
Walk around the machine to limber up. This will also allow you to check for possible trouble spots on your combine.
Before harvest ever begins, check your equipment and perform the proper maintenance. Consult your operator’s manual or dealer if you have any questions. Well-maintained machinery reduces the chance for breakdowns and related aggravation in the wheat field.
Delays due to breakdown only force harvest crews to work longer and harder to catch up. Such delays also increase the chance of accidents during this catch-up period.
As is sometimes the case with some farmers, they may have kept some combines longer than they should have. Treat these “old-timers” with care. They’ll need additional preventative and routine maintenance.
Pulling pre-harvest maintenance is easier and less frustrating than fixing such problems in the heat, dirt and sweat of the harvest field. Reduce your chances of aggravation now – it will be worth it.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.