Wheat harvest has completed here on the farm in Middle Tennessee. The wheat seeds are harvested and the straw has been baled for winter bedding in the bull barns (More on this tomorrow). But how was it harvested and where did all of the equipment go?

Across much of the country, row crops like wheat are harvested by custom harvest crews. Some operate regionally while others spend most of the year, trekking across the country, following the crop as it become ready for harvest.

One of these families is the Zeorian Harvesting & Trucking crew. Tracy, the mom (found on Twitter as @NEWheatie) blogs about her families adventures on the road as a custom harvesting crew. It’s always fascinated me how these crews start harvesting in Texas and make their way to Montana and even Canada.

Today I have invited Tracy (who regularly blogs at NebraskaWheatie.com) to share a little about what a custom harvest crew is, and how the business has strong roots in her family. Hope you enjoy!

Zeorian Custom Wheat Harvesting as told by Tracy

Wikipedia defines the custom harvester:

“In agriculture, custom harvesting or custom combining is the business of harvesting crops for others. Custom harvesters usually own their own combines and work for the same farms every harvest season. Custom harvesting relieves farmers from having to invest capital in expensive equipment while at the same time maximizing the machinery’s use.”

From the eyes of a third generation custom harvester, I will give you my definition.

My grandparents chose to make custom harvesting their lifestyle in the early 1950’s. That is what it is – a lifestyle. The typical custom harvester will leave their home and everything that produces security and comfort about mid May and will get back as late as December. Grandpa and Grandma would have been in their late 30’s when they chose the lifestyle. Grandpa was 80+ years old when he decided he should stay home.

Harvesting is all I have known for most of my life. My husband was a hired man for my grandparents and we did not intend to follow the harvest after we got married. God had other plans. We have raised our four daughters on the road. The two older ones (Jamie, 26 (married) and Jenna, 24) wish they could still come while the two younger ones (Taylor, 17 and Callie, 14) still do.

It is usually the first of April when the equipment starts coming out of its winter quarters. It’s at this time Jim will give the combine, the header and the trucks a “goin over” to make sure it’s road ready. The more maintenance he can do before hitting the road means less he will have to do while on the road.

When May 1st rolls around, the trailer house is packed and Jim gets a little more serious about finishing his work. We usually leave home mid to late May for our first stop in Texas. The combine is loaded on a combine trailer and hitched behind the semi. The grain trailer will be hooked to the combine trailer to complete the train. My truck, the wheat header, the service pickup, an extra pickup and our trailer house will complete the list of equipment heading south. It takes us two trips each time we move.

When we leave home, it will be the last time we see green wheat. Once we get to Texas and begin harvesting, we will chase the ripening wheat to our last job in Central Montana. Custom harvesters own one to thirty (or more) combines and the necessary support equipment it takes to replace the farmer in the fields. For the farmer, the custom harvester eliminates the expense of owning costly equipment and finding additional labor during harvest. The custom harvester can harvest the grain in a timely and efficient manner, which is crucial when the storm clouds are threatening on the horizon. When the job is done, we will load up, pack up, move to the next town north, and start all over again.

I have often said the custom harvesting lifestyle is an addiction, one that is loved by those who do it and intriguing to those who do not.

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If you’re a farmer, do you use a custom harvesting crew? What other crops are harvested by a custom crew?

Have you ever encountered a convoy of custom harvesters on the road?

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