Sometimes, I get asked questions. It comes in the form of small talk- like when you’re at a salon, a nurse asking questions before the doctor comes in, waiting at an airplane terminal.
Usually I’m glad to answer their questions, but sometimes it gets tiring. How do you explain what you do for a living to someone that doesn’t have a clue about the agricultural world? There are times I wish I just had a card that I could pull out of my wallet and give to the person. Something like a brief summary. It would go like this. You can pick your answer.
What do you do for a living?
I work for a family owned and operated large scale grain farming company. We farm 20,000+ acres of conventional and organic soybeans, corn, wheat, rye, popcorn, pinto and kidney beans. Fieldwork starts in March, followed by planting, cultivating, and eventually ending in final harvest usually around November. Our company also does custom harvesting, which means we travel in TX, OK, KS, NE, SD, and ND and harvest other people grain; mostly wheat, some durum and canola, and a little bit of corn. Depending on the year (aka, Mother Nature and predicted crop yield) we take about 9 John Deere S680 combines with 40 ft. grain heads and 4-5 John Deere 8370R tractors with Brent 1196 grain carts along with a mix of Freightliner and Peterbilt semis with Cornhusker grain trailers. We also have 3 fully equipped shop trucks with fuel tanks and trailers we bring. We leave on the harvest trail late May after our crops are in, and are on the road through early August. The crew I’m on also leave again middle August into September, and again in mid September. Last year I spent a total of six months on the road, including trips back to WI. During the winter months we replace the years equipment with new equipment- 12 combines, approx 22 tractors, etc. All need to be gone through, thoroughly washed, old ones brought to dealerships, and new ones picked up from the factories. By the time all that has been taken care of, it’s time to go through 5 planters, all of the fieldwork implements, and that brings us to March again. That’s our year in a nutshell.
Oh, you farm! You must have a ton of cute furry cows and chickens and pigs and stuff?!
We grain farm and don’t have any cattle or anything like that!
No. Hell no. That would add to the headache.
I do have a German Shepherd- Kelpie mix that would love to have some animals to “play” with though. I’d love to have a small acreage someday with a steer or two, couple of chickens, and a nice big vegetable garden again. Someday. When we have time.
So you work on a farm…. are you like the farm secretary? What do you “do”?
We have an office that’s full of awesome secretaries that deal with all of that stuff. I’m out in the field with the rest of the guys!
(ah, yes! I am woman therefore I can only be in an office!)
I do play secretary when we’re on the road for harvest. I keep track of internship paperwork, receipts, payments, make hotel reservations and things like that for all the crews.
During the winter I recruit possible new hires and interns for the next season, help with interviews, etc. But no, I’m not an office person at all.
My office is inside of a pickup, combine, or tractor. Yes, I drive all those things, operate them, and work on the them.
In spring I do field work, seed tend, and keep everyone else running and (somewhat) happy. On harvest I’m also equipment hauler, flag vehicle, equipment mover, lunch getter, part runner, fuel deliverer, grain samples to the elevators, the runner, the gopher, and everything else that needs to be done. There’s a not so nice word that is generally used. It rhymes with witch, and I’m everyone’s. It’s fun. I love it. I’m never in one place for very long which suits me.
During fall harvest I usually grain cart. I like it. It seems like a vacation. All I have to do is get the grain from the combine, dump it on a truck, and record the weights. It’s simple and no one bothers me.
In winter I work in the shop when I feel like it. Mostly I enter into a hibernation mode and say “screw you world.”
You work with all guys then? Are there other girls that you work with? Does that get old after while?
Yes and no!
There are the “office girls” that keep the whole company running which is a giant undertaking. Those girls are worth their weight in gold. They really go above and beyond- even taking care of our personal matters like paying our bills when we’re gone, getting our mail, picking up prescriptions, running errands, going to the grocery store because we’re out in the fields during any sort of business hours, etc. They make our lives tons easier and probably don’t ever get thanked enough for it. But I don’t work in the office with them.
As far as the shop is concerned, yes, I’m the only girl. There have only been 2 other girls that have come out for summer harvest and they. were. awesome.
Working with all guys is great. No one cares what you look like, smell like, talk like, act like, etc. There’s considerably less drama than working with girls, and if someone has a problem they come directly to your face instead of talking behind your back. For the most part. We all talk crap to each other, but I know that if it came down to it, if something happened, there’d be a whole line of guys waiting to beat the crap out of a guy who pissed me off. These guys are my family, my best friends, my drinking and cook out buddies, my confidants, my rant listeners, etc.
That sounds like a lot of hard dirty work and long hours!
Yeah, it can be!
Dirt. Grease. Fuel. Engine oil. Hydraulic oil. DEF. Fertilizer. Chaff. Dust. Mud. Anti-seize. Brake cleaner. Unknown goo. Sweat. Blood. Tears (occasionally). It’s been in my hair, skin, clothing, boots, vehicles, in my bra, down my pants, caked in my eyes, up my nose, packed in my ears, jammed under my fingers nails, ruined washers and dryers, dyed and stripped my hair, destroyed clothing, etc.
Try to add in normal stuff like preparing meals, eating, cleaning your house or hotel room you only sleep in, laundry (oh my God the laundry), errands (grocery shopping!), paying bills (thank you online banking and auto pay), keeping in touch with family (because they all want to know what you’re doing, and why haven’t you called us for so long!) taking care of a dog, being a good wife, trying to get a haircut every once in awhile, and sleep. Sleep is a big one. Coffee is my main food group, followed by Diet Coke. If there was something stronger than caffeine and more legal than cocaine, you bet it’d be added.
So why do you do it?
I get to see the country, meet new people and form new relationships, visit old friends, swap stories on rainy days with a beer, view beautiful scenery, hang out with my friends on a daily basis, create a lot of inside jokes, talk to people from all walks of life in agriculture, from the old boys that hang out at the elevators who have seen it all, to the little kids that come out to the field and make you see the world again through a untainted eyes and honest thoughts.
Because I love it.