Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvesting Corn

While we were in Williamsburg, we saw that harvesting food meant days of back-breaking work, doing it all by hand. Last Saturday, we got the opportunity to see how it's done today. My co-worker, Donnie, spent many years as a farmer in Alamance County, NC. He used to grow corn, wheat, soybeans and tobacco. While he no longer farms, he still helps out friends by running their combine during harvest season. This year, he's helping a friend harvest feed corn, which will be sold to feed either deer or livestock, and he invited us out to see how it's done.

We were rather surprised at the size of this thing. Even though we had looked at pictures, they don't really give you a sense of just how big it really is. And this is a relatively small one! This one will harvest 4 rows at a time, pulling the stalks into the "chains", where the ears are popped loose of the stalk and often right out of the husks. The auger then feeds the ears into the heart of the combine, where it strips off any remaining husks and pops the kernels free of the cob. Somehow, the kernels are separated from the husks and cobs and tossed up into a bin behind the driver. Everything else is spit back out the back end and left on the ground.

Olivia was excited to find a cob among the rows.

Now, I'm no corn expert, so I can't really give any more info than my own observations. This corn wasn't like the stuff you buy on the cob in the store. It was hard and dry on the cob. The stalks were also very dry and stood 8 feet tall or more. Some were as tall as the combine!

The owner of the field only wanted us to harvest about 150-200 bushels, since that's what he can sell in a week selling it as deer corn. He could sell more as feed for livestock, but he gets at least $1 more per bushel selling it to hunters. When we got there, Donnie and his grandson had already harvested about 100 bushels and were getting ready to make another pass. We all (except for his grandson) piled into the cab of the combine and Donnie started down the row. It was pretty loud, but thankfully, it wasn't too bad. There was also air conditioning, so it didn't get ridiculously hot in there. It was amazing to see the beast in action. It just plowed through the corn like nothing.

Once we'd finished half the field, Donnie pulled up next to the trailer, extended the elevator arm and started offloading the corn. It only took about 5 minutes to offload and fill the trailer. Olivia had just a wonderful time and thought the whole things was really neat and "It wasn't so loud that I had to cover my ears."

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