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Prepping and planning

It’s not just farmers who are preparing for harvest time

October 1, 2009
By Deb Gau

A lot of hard work and preparation goes into a grain harvest, but not all the work is done in the fields - there's equipment that needs maintaining, crops that need to be stored or transported to a buyer, and many other tasks that have to be done. At area grain elevators, for example, preparation for harvest has been going on since summer.

"The groundwork is laid by the end of June, depending on what type of thing you want to do," said Todd Reif, general manager of CHS in Marshall. "Timing is probably the trickiest part of it all."

Based partly on how crops are developing, an elevator company needs to plan everything from summer maintenance on elevators to the number of seasonal workers to hire in order to be ready for harvest. It's important - Reif said 40 to 50 percent of CHS' business comes during harvest. "A lot of effort goes into getting things done."

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Photo by Deb Gau

Most maintenance on area grain elevators is done during slow periods in the summer, in preparation for harvest.

"Summer is generally the time we do maintenance," said, Bill Doyscher, assistant general manager of Farmers Cooperative Elevator in Hanley Falls. Repairs and maintenance work on the elevators are planned around slow spots during the summer, he said, while a lot of the serious planning for harvest starts about a month ahead of time.

"Probably one of the biggest things is the employment side," Reif said. Temporary workers are needed to help harvest season run smoothly, and CHS needs to have an idea of how many people to hire relatively early on. This year, he said, CHS will add 70 seasonal workers to its 70-person full time staff, in addition to subcontractors who handle trucking and supplies.

"We usually hire some temporary workers for fall," Doyscher said. However, he said FCE has an advantage in being a larger company. If things get busy at one location, employees can sometimes be brought in from another location to help.

When harvest season comes, there's plenty of work to be done in other areas, too. "Equipment maintenance is huge," Doyscher said.

Brian Rangaard, an agronomy sales representative from Farmers Cooperative Association in Canby said harvest season is also a busy time for agronomy centers. When this fall's crops are out of the field, it's time to prepare for the next.

"We'll go out and do soil samples, help the farmers pick the right fertilizers," and other field preparations, Rangaard said. "We try and save them some money that way."

The workload can vary from year to year and location to location, depending on crop yields, Doyscher said. For example, this year, corn harvests in the Taunton and Minneota area might not be as good as ones farther north. Weather comes into play, too. A wet day can mean less grain brought to the elevator, while a lot of wet days could lead to more demand for corn dryers.

Reif and Doyscher said being there for crop producers is another big part of harvest. As bean and corn harvests pick up, Doyscher said, elevators may need to extend operating hours. Reif said CHS has gone to 24-hour service in some areas, and has started making more use of automated pricing for producers' convenience.

"Really, it's all about having the facilities and the equipment to take the grain when the harvest comes," Doyscher said.



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