Friday, July 2, 2010

Custom Cutting Crews: Cultural Diversity on a Combine

Like elephants in a circus parade, lines of cumbersome tractor/trailer rigs hauling farm equipment make their way from deep in the heart of Texas, across the plains and into Canada, harvesting the wheat fields as they go.    These caravans set out to the southernmost fields in late spring and work their way north - following the summer heat as it tracks northward and ripens the wheat - and return back home in the fall. 

These modern nomads travel with their own living quarters, so RV parks and lots that usually sit empty become villages for a few weeks, then everything returns to it's place on the trucks and the caravan heads to the next stop to repeat the entire process.  Farmers will re-hire the same crew each year, if they're good at what they do, so some of the wanderers are familiar faces each summer.

Not all farmers hire crews to cut their wheat.  The ones who do say it is because hiring it done is more cost efficient than purchasing and maintaining combines and trucks and hiring help to run them.  Custom  crews can definitely be more time efficient, putting three, four or more combines into a field at once, and since time is of the essence when you're battling Mother Nature, this can be a huge benefit. If you  asked those who cut their own crop, they would likely tell you that custom cutters are too expensive and they can do it more reasonably on their own.  Only a few will admit that, regardless of cost, they just enjoy the hands-on experience of harvest.

The most interesting part of the crews that come to town are the people themselves.  This is five months of hard work and long hours, but the pay is good, so it's an attractive summer job, especially for young men.  Crews in our area this year started from Canada, Missouri, Oklahoma, Minnesota and a variety of other places, and an international group is not uncommon.  We met folks from all over Canada, the Netherlands, and South Africa.  When asked why they sign up for this job, most gave two answers:  1. to see the United States, and 2. for the money.  At today's exchange rate, each American dollar earned equals 7.74 African Rand, so these men can possibly earn as much or more in five months on an American harvest crew as they would in a year at home.  For some, a work visa for the harvest season is the first step in an anticipated permanent move to the States. 

Pictured here is our daughter and Koos, a harvester from South Africa.  Working at the elevator, Dave and the kids saw these men on a daily basis, and they sometimes hung out after work hours, trading stories about their cultures and generally having a good time. As a result, our kids have a little wider view of the world, and are fluent in Afrikaans swear words.


  1. This was so interesting. I had no idea people came from all over just to harvest the wheat. How great for the whole community.

  2. New to me as well! I enjoy learning how to swear in other cultures.