Barley harvest stress in Schleitheim

Ah, that feels good! I haven’t sat on a combine for almost two years. “It would feel good if we didn’t have so much stress,” Stephan Schudel, the combine operator, says to me. The barley harvest has begun in Schleitheim, and Stephan is a custom harvester.

It's a beautiful day, but Stephan doesn't have much time to enjoy it. Harvest is a stressful time for this custom combiner.

The stress is caused by two things mainly – the number of farmers and small fields that are clamouring for his attention, and the weather. Few farmers have their own combine in Schleitheim. Most won’t have more than 10-20 hectares of grain to harvest, and that on fields rarely bigger than two or three hectares. For Stephan that means racing from one field to the next, cleaning headers between farmers and fields, and if he has to go on a main road, unhooking the header onto a trailer.

Small scattered fields have combines using considerably more engine hours than threshing hours. (Bächtold custom outfit)

The weather isn’t helping things. It’s already rained twice the normal amount for July and we’re not even in the middle yet. The forecast is for more rain second half of the week. All the farmers are phoning him, they want him NOW! That is, they all want him to combine their barley when it’s perfectly dry. No one wants to be the first, he complains. And if he doesn’t get to all his customers, they’ll call someone else. If they find someone, he’ll lose business.

His New Holland CS6060 Laterale combine is chewing through a barley field the size of a Canadian’s hankie – .45 hectares, or about one acre. He spends more time turning than he does combining. It’s a good day’s work if Stephan does 17-18 hectares. On average he manages about 12. That doesn’t sound like much to this Canadian farmer. But 12 hectares means he probably did at least six, more likely ten fields. It’s the time it takes to switch fields, the time he spends turning, driving to the edge of the field to unload.

Maturing grain fields in the Klettgau valley - Oberhallau in the foreground.

Custom combiners charge around $340 per hectare, a little more if it’s canola (they use a special canola header). Stephan thinks many custom combiners don’t harvest more than 100 hectares a year, although he does a little more than that.

We move on to a bigger field, a couple hectares large. Stephan turns the combine down into the hill. I’m apprehensive – hills scare me. But we stay level all the way – Stephan says the CS6060 has 36 Per Cent hillside compensation. It’s a good thing – Schleitheim’s farmers are cropping some pretty steep slopes. The barley looks good. Stephan estimates it at eight tonnes per hectare, or 145 bushels per acre. There’s a pile of straw coming out behind. The owner will be happy about that too. Last year there was a shortage because of drought. Animal rights laws demand that livestock be bedded down at least partially on straw.

I tell Stephan there’s no use in getting stressed in Canada. When you’ve got hundreds or more hectares of grain out there, that’s a long harvest. You may as well relax, because it won’t get you done any faster. “That’s actually true for us too,” Stephan admits ruefully.

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