Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

The American harvest trail was the experience of a lifetime

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

After seven months, my time working the American harvest has come to an end, writes Jamie Casey.

Although I was happy to return home, it was with a heavy heart that I recently said goodbye to my new friends and colleagues stateside.

The season ended with harvesting the fall crops of soybeans, corn (maize) and sunflowers.

Crops yielded well, thanks to a combination of ever more efficient irrigation booms, and genetically modified seed that is becoming more resistant to dry conditions.

Crop irrigation is essential in many parts of the Midwest, and a centre pivot irrigation boom is the most popular system.

This employs a rotating irrigation arm that pivots 360 degrees about a point in the centre of a square 160 acre field (the field is half a mile long by half a mile wide).

The boom is made up of a straight 400 metre long arm, with an additional 37 metre arm that opens out into the corners, and closes in again as the boom passes the narrowest point of the field.

Without the arm to swing into the corners, only 133 of the available 160 acres would be irrigated.

Also Read

Being able to irrigate the corners reduces dry land from 27 acres to just 8 acres.

The irrigation boom draws water from a nearby well, and is set to run 6 or 7 rotations per growing season.

They pump out an impressive 48,000 gallons per hour, and it takes three days for a full revolution, which is the equivalent of 20mm of rain. The water pump is driven by an 8.1 litre V8 natural gas powered engine and a three day lap costs $525 in fuel.

The engine also drives a hydraulic system operating at 1750psi, which in turn drives the motors on the wheels that carry the arm around the field.


These irrigation systems are not cheap, coming in at a cool $120,000. This particular machine was written off during a storm in April, but luckily the farmer had it insured.

The field produced 76 bushels of soybeans per acre, for 160 acres, selling at $8.20 per bushel.

This gave a return of $99,712, which was still not enough for the farmer to make a profit of $8.50 per bushel which is his break-even point.

With the crops harvested, it was time to get the equipment hauled home and cleaned up prior to trading in.

It was an expensive year for trading, due to the market being flooded with second hand equipment.

The combines have only worked one season, and have clocked 700 rotor hours and 1000 engine hours. It will cost $91,000 per combine to trade for brand new next year (same model).

Three years ago this would only have cost $48,000. The 40" flex draper headers will cost $14,000 each to trade for new, versus $6,000 three years ago.

The tractor will be traded for a slightly larger model, with larger tyres for $40,000.

It would have cost $17,000 two years ago. In the States, it appears some big manufacturers are trying to make purchasing brand new equipment unattractive in the short term, to help clear a backlog of second hand equipment with dealers.

So the end of my journey has come. I've met some fantastic people along the way, made the memories and friends of a lifetime.

If anyone wants to experience some true small town America, while travelling, working and having fun along the way, I cannot recommend the harvest trail highly enough.

Indo Farming