Seasonal workers aren’t just valuable for retail stores during the holiday shopping blitz.
They are also imperative for farmers during the harvest season, which started in Champaign County several weeks ago.
For much of the year, farming can be a solo pursuit for a majority of the operators.
When it’s time to get the crops out of the field, however, it’s not practical for a farmer to work by himself to drive the combine, load the grain into a truck and then transport it himself to an area elevator.
Brothers Brian and Craig Anderson share the workload on their farm northwest of Mahomet — near the Piatt County line — but they require outside assistance during the weeks of harvest.
It’s not a job that anyone can do, or would want to do.
“The key in today’s environment is to find good, conscientious people to work with you as a team,” Craig Anderson said. “Farming is not 8-5, five days a week.
“It’s 16-hour days at least six days a week during planting and harvest.”
The Anderson’s operation is set up so that one of the brothers operates the combine, virtually without break, from the time they start harvesting on a given day.
The other brother drives a John Deere tractor alongside the combine, pulling a grain cart, which is filled with grain just harvested from the field.
When the grain cart is full — usually around 900 bushels — it’s driven to a waiting semitrailer and unloaded for a trip to the elevator. Thanks to an auger in the grain cart, the process takes about 3 to 4 minutes.
Mahomet’s Charlie Odle is the on-call truck driver and leaves for the elevator as soon as he has a full load.
One day last week, Odle made nine trips back and forth.
“He’s been around heavy equipment all his life and understands the process of planting and harvesting,” Craig Anderson said. “He has driven semis for years.”
When the brothers are combining beans — as they were last week — Odle is the only additional worker needed.
When the operation shifts to corn, trucks fill up faster (because the yield per acre is about three times greater) and two semis are in the field ready for transport.
Mansfield’s Gregg Giertz has been available as the second helper the last four years.
Not only are the two men reliable, but Craig Anderson added, “you don’t worry about them being abusive to your tremendously expensive equipment.
“They’re valuable assets.”
At times, Odle and Giertz become more than truck drivers.
“They’re both mechanical and, if we have breakdowns, they’re willing to take apart and put back together,” Brian Anderson said. “They’re conscientious about your equipment and are looking out for your best interests.”
Though harvest season usually starts around mid-September and can extend until late October, the extra farm hands must be people with availability for irregular hours.
Weather problems can slow the harvest, sometimes delaying the field work for several days at a time.
“For the most part, they’re both available when we want to start and they hang with us until we end,” Brian Anderson said.
When it’s corn-picking time, the combine is usually in the field by 7 a.m. The machine is ready for a full’s day work, which means the men must also be ready to go.
The combine is filled the night before with 150 gallons of diesel fuel, which Brian Anderson said, “will run you a full day.”
The semitrailer trucks hold 200 gallons of fuel and can operate multiple days before they need a refill.
Throughout experimentation, the Andersons have developed a system which allows them to be efficient in the field.
Last week, when a newspaper reporter joined the operation for an afternoon ride along, Craig Anderson was driving the tractor with grain cart at 3.4 mph hour, while the working combine was slightly behind in order to have constant access to the grain cart.
“The combine could go faster, but we find that’s a pace that keeps everything moving,” Craig Anderson said. “It’s a good pace for the truck to get to the elevator and back.”
At that speed, they expect to harvest about 10 acres per hour. The combine cuts 12 rows (that are 30 inches apart) at a time.
As a rule, a totally filled grain cart holds exactly what the semi can handle, approximately 850 to 900 bushels. That amount of grain would weigh more than 50,000 pounds.
The 65-year-old Odle, who is retired, is in his 17th year of helping the Andersons during the harvest season.
“I drove trucks most of my life, working in the gravel industry,” Odle said. “I drove my first semi when I was 16.
“It’s like farm kids driving a tractor. You don’t think twice about it.”
He originally learned about the opportunity through his golfing partner, Brian Anderson.
“Brian and I are good friends and we’ve played a lot of golf together,” Odle said. “When I retired, he asked if I wanted to drive a truck.”
The appeal was that it was for a limited time only.
“We go for three or four weeks a year and I enjoy it,” Odle said. “It’s a fun three- or four-week stint and you’re as busy as can be. I love every minute of it.
“Then it’s time to be done. I get my fill and I’m good for another year.” By checking their watches when Odle leaves the field, the brothers have a pretty good idea of when to expect him back.
“If it’s going good, I can get there (the Anderson Elevator) and back in just over an hour,” Odle said.
Odle, who moved to Mahomet in 1971, is not yet contemplating a second retirement.
“I really look forward to it,” he said. “I’ll do it ‘til they think I’m too old. I think I have a long ways to go.”
Craig Anderson speculates that there might be an additional reason for Odle’s willingness to work.
“The more pumpkin pie we put in him, the happier he is,” Craig Anderson said.