Cutting it on a gruelling final push to the finish
Robert Deacon recounts his experiences on the last leg of the USA's combine harvesting circuit -- and finds that wing mirrors are ideal for flying the Irish flag
As our crews finished cutting the last of the wheat and canola crops in Langdon, North Dakota, nothing but an old wire fence separated us from the fields of Canada.
Having started in the desert-surrounded fields that border Mexico to now be finally standing at the fence separating America from Canada was truly a surreal moment. But, as is the custom harvester way, this moment was to be shortlived as all combines, tractors, carts and trucks were turned for the gate.
We headed for the yard where the combine transporter trailers had sat with their ramps still down since being unloaded four weeks beforehand. We still had the final stint of the American harvest ahead, but for this we needed to head back down south to South Dakota where the bean and corn harvests were starting.
Individual American state laws can differ slightly when it comes to load height and width restrictions. A greater oversize load allowance in North Dakota allows combines to be transported on trucks without having to remove the outer dual wheels, which takes the work and sweat out of loading the combines. Instead, it transfers the worry to the moments when you meet trucks coming the opposite direction on the road.
Due to the width of the load, the wing mirrors were good for nothing, except to support the Irish flag for the journey down south!
As combines started to arrive in the little town of Columbia, South Dakota, work began on assembling new 35ft flex-headers, which are used to cut edible beans. These cutting heads are necessary because the bean pods grow quite close to the ground and the ability of these flex-headers to follow varying ground contours mean that no crop is lost under the knife.
The beans we were harvesting were grown for human consumption so combine settings were of major importance to prevent loss of quality through split beans. All the combines harvesting beans also had to be completely cleaned out, because one grain of any other crop in a load would make the entire load ineligible for human consumption. The beans were all hauled to a small elevator in Minnesota where each bean was individually checked for quality before being loaded onto a train. This was a tedious process and took two days to fill a single train cart.