Through our travels across the lower 48 states of the US we see just about everything. Metropolitan areas teeming with traffic and bustling industrial sectors. We also go through rural areas to find a traffic jam caused by a combine slowly making its way to the next field to harvest.
Being a city girl and not well versed in the ways of farmers I’ve often wondered where all the harvested crops go as the fields are cleared.
I know where all the harvested fruits and vegetables in California end up. Giant warehouse buildings where produce is boxed and palleted to be made ready for shipping to your local grocer.
What happens to millions of acres of corn and soybeans, sunflower seeds and millet, milo and wheat, to name a few?
Joe has “schooled” me over the years of our truck driving as we pass fields. He can tell me what crop is growing in the fields we pass. From his many years as a crop duster he can pick out fields that have been infested by insects that destroy crops and the pesky growths that invade crops, such as “Shatter Cane” that will suck the life out of healthy fields.
Listen up, now. Joe will now commence schooling you.
It takes 5 to 7 barrels of water to make one bushel of corn. Water is the lifeblood of our agriculture.
Throughout the Midwest, and we are presently driving through Illinois, they have had it bad here. Last year the drought ruined most of the farmers yields, unless they were fortunate to have irrigation. Most did not have irrigation in this area.
My flight instructor, who taught me to fly, made the statement “Farmers are the only people I know that make a living accidentally”. Think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent preparing and planting the land. And then it doesn’t rain. Three months after all that work you end up with nothing. You want to talk about a bummer!
Farmers are the original “Optimist”. Their glass is always half full. So from Joe, remember, the next time you sit down at a meal and are full; thank a farmer. He got up before the crap of dawn to make sure you had good bread, fresh cornflakes, and good milk. All without you having to kill something to eat it. So don’t holler about the cost of food with your mouth full.
(Did I ever tell you Joe is just a smidgen opinionated?)
Joe’s normal day began at 2 a.m. getting his plane checked and ready, seeing which fields were to be sprayed, mixing chemicals necessary for each crop, then before sunrise he would be in the air on his way to the first field. He would finish spraying around 10 a.m. Then head to the local cafe to drum up business chatting with the farmers.
Farmers gathered to talk about the weather, or who has started planting, or who has started harvesting. Joe says it was always contentious. He remembers one farmer looking physically ill in the cafe so he asked him what was wrong? “I just lost $25,000″! Joe asked how he had lost that amount of money. The farmer responded with “I sold 25,000 bushels of wheat yesterday at $4.27 per bushel. I was going to sell it the day before when the price was $5.27 per bushel.”
In all innocence and without thinking about the consequences of his words Joe said “How can you lose what you never had?” To which the response was “Do we lynch him now or tar and feather him first?!”
Joe still stands by his statement but he has not made that faux pas since.
The farmers store their grain waiting for a better price. The price of grain, or a farmers crop, is always lowest at the start of harvest. Those farmers who have the money to be able to stockpile have a better opportunity to control their prices. There are other factors that dictate the farmer’s return.
For instance, wheat. If the farmer does not have to sell it immediately upon harvest he can usually get a higher price at a later market. If he has the time to test the quality of his wheat crop, and it has a higher than normal “protein average”, he can sell that wheat with the higher protein content for a significantly higher price. He can also put the wheat up for bid to increase his price that way.
In some areas local businesses will determine the farmer’s pay. For instance, when Monfort was in business in Greeley, Colorado he was the largest purchaser of corn in three states to feed the thousands of head of cattle in his feedlot. Monfort literally set the price for corn in the Weld County area.
The Budweiser plant, near Fort Collins, Colorado, actually had farms under contract to grow specific hybrids of barley and other grains that went into making their beer. In some cases Budweiser supplied the seeds and required the farmers to husband the crop in a specific manner. Fertilizers were tailored by specifications for soil types. Farmers were told when to plant, when to water, when to fertilize, how much fertilizer per acre to use, and when the moisture content was optimum for harvest.
For all this work the farmers knew exactly how much they would be paid.
Sugar beets in the Weld County area of Colorado, around Greeley, returned in 1986. There had been quite an infrastructure for handling sugar beets. There was a local railway called The Great Western Railway which connected all of the beet dumps with the beet processing facilities. A list of the beet processing facilities included Longmont, Loveland, Jamestown, Greeley, Brighton, Fort Morgan, Eaton, Pierce, and Sterling. All of these facilities were closed for years.
In 1986 the plants in Greeley and Fort Morgan were reopened. There were to be jobs for 700 people. Over 5,000 applied.
Even with updated methods of processing sugar beets the harvest campaign was planned for only 90 days. A campaign begins when the first sugar beet is delivered to the plant, and later, the last bag of sugar has been sacked and palleted for delivery.
Beet dumps are areas where machines on crawling tracks stack sugar beets. This machine has a place where the beet trucks dump the beets into a bin. The beets are cleaned of the dirt. The cleaned beets are weighed and the farmer is paid by the pound, or hundred weight, and the dirt is loaded back into the farmers truck.
The beet machine has a swiveling conveyor belt. The beets are dumped in a pile averaging 150 to 250 feet wide and the height goes up 50 to 75 feet. These piles can be half a mile long. Some beet dumps will have two or more piles.
When the plant is geared up for operation, front end loaders will be stationed at each pile loading semi tractor trailers going to the two plants. There is a master beet dump at each plant.
(Side note. My one finger can hardly keep up with Joe’s dictating his knowledge. Forgive typos and run on sentences, please.)
This master beet dump is kept in operation by continually refilling from all the other beet dumps until the campaign ends. This insures a continuous supply of beets so the production line is never stopped due to a lack of product. This process goes 24/7 for the duration of the campaign.
Personally I, Leslie, know that one of the bi-products of sugar beet processing is anhydrous lime which was used as a filler in asphalt for roadways. Don’t know if it is still in use today or not.
All this because I made a comment about grain silos and storage buildings such as these.