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Thursday 8 December 2016

'Catastrophic rain and golf ball-sized hail'

Letter from America: A report from the delayed harvest in Oklahoma

Jamie Casey

Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30

Looming storm clouds in Southern Oklahoma
Looming storm clouds in Southern Oklahoma

After a delayed start due to severe weather conditions the harvest finally got underway on June 6.

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Heavy rain and some catastrophic hailstorms laid waste to parts of the wheat crop in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, where we were to begin harvesting.

Parts of Oklahoma received 20 inches of rain in May. Four inches of rain fell on one night alone.

Hail is a major health worry for farmers here because golf ball sized hail is a regular sight.

A 20-minute hailstorm will completely destroy a standing crop

Because of these factors, the crop yielded very poorly in this area, varying between just 0.4 to 1t per acre of wheat.

By Irish standards that is really poor but bear in mind that this crop had been grazed by calves over the winter at a stocking rate of one animal per acre. The field is generally closed and fertilised only 10 weeks before the harvest date.

BT Harvesting, my host company, are currently running three John Deere S670 combines.

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At the time of writing, we are harvesting wheat in western Kansas.

Everywhere I look there are large, flat fields. The yield is better here at an average of 1.8t per acre. This crop wasn't grazed over winter.

We have the best kit. All combines are equipped with 40ft headers and GPS auto-steer, and they are absolutely at home in this terrain.

On a good day of harvesting, from 10am to 11.30pm, it is possible to harvest 500ac of wheat. Efficiency is key if this acreage is to be achieved, and the chaser bin is a vital component.

It ensures the combines never waste time stopping to unload, and it also acts as storage capacity should a grain haulage truck get delayed on it's way to the field.

Unfortunately it isn't all plain sailing. Combines have gotten stuck numerous times in the hilly Oklahoma fields, especially after rainstorms.

Low loaders

On one occasion we needed a bulldozer to free a combine from its muddy prison.

When we finish harvesting in one area all the equipment is washed and prepared for transport. It is then loaded onto trucks and the entire fleet is transported to the next harvest destination.

The combines are carried on low loaders pulled by articulated trucks and the headers are hitched onto the back of the low loader.

It's an impressive sight on the road but you need your wits about you when driving; the entire rig measures 108ft from the truck bumper to the rear of the header.

At the moment my work mostly consists of driving an articulated truck. I also do some mechanical and repair work when the need arises. If you have welding experience it helps a lot.

When we move from place to place I haul a combine and header combination. Then, once we reach the destination, the low loader is swapped for a 40ft grain trailer.

I have driven over 3200km in the last week alone so it is a good way to see different parts of the country.

So far we have harvested in the south and north of Oklahoma, and we have now just finished up in western Kansas. Our most recent port of call is in Holyoke, Colorado.

The team got to spend Independence Day in Denver, Colorado where we took some time out last week to go quad biking in the Rocky Mountains.

It was our first couple of days off in four weeks and was great chance for some down time to relax and recharge the batteries.

But it's back to work again for now.

I'll send another update in a few weeks' time. In the meantime, readers can get regular updates and pictures of progress by liking the BT Harvesting Facebook page.

Indo Farming