Feature Article: U.S. Custom Harvesters - Harvesting the Crops that Feed the World

Nothing is more gratifying to a grain farmer than when the crops have been harvested and the fruits of the labor are completed. In an ideal world, this final act would be so simple. However, the cost of equipment, the labor it takes to complete the harvest and the uncertainty of the weather also makes it a huge challenge for a lot of farmers.
 
Yet there is a viable option that will take care of all of these concerns: U. S. Custom Harvesters, Inc (USCHI). USCHI (www.uschi.com) is an organization established and chartered in 1983 that serves as a link between the harvesters and the many groups of people they work with, such as farmers, businesses, State and Federal Government.
 
What USCHI guarantees is to provide custom harvesters that will take care of everything a farmer will need:
  • All of the equipment the farmer and harvester determines is needed
  • All of the labor to complete the harvest in a timely manner
  • Workers skilled in their job to get the job done right
Members include both individual and family operations that work as independent contractors to handle harvesting operations, often times for the same farmers each year. Custom harvesters can be found throughout the country. Some will do custom harvesting in their local area or state, while others will follow the tradition that was established way back in the midtwentieth century of following the harvest all the way from Texas to the Canadian border. If completing an entire harvest season, the custom harvesters can be gone 6-7 months at a time as they work their way northward.
 
When the wheat harvest is completed, many harvesters will then turn their eye toward harvesting corn, soybeans, milo, sunflowers and other crops. In recent years, harvesters have branched out into taking care of forage crops for farmers, including a variety of grasses and alfalfa crops, along with corn silage and sorghum harvest. As a result, custom harvesters have the ability to help grain farmers, cattlemen and dairymen with whatever crops that need to be harvested.
 
Tracy Zeorian, a third generation harvester and Executive Director of USCHI, says, “We have over 450 members, and I would say our membership is 1/3 forage harvesters and 2/3 grain harvesters. My job is to help farmers with their harvest. If I get a call from a farmer, I will immediately send out an email (over 90 percent have email) entailing where the farmer is located, what they need harvested, what equipment they need and when the crop needs to be harvested.”
 
Recently, Zeorian received a call from a farmer in Pratt, Kansas, whose harvester could not handle the harvest duties this coming year. “He had found out about
USCHI and had my phone number. Right away I put the request out to our membership. A couple of days later, the farmer contacted me and was so happy that he had his harvester lined up. That made my day. That’s why we’re here-to be able to help people out.”
 
Many custom harvesters are actually multi-generational with harvesters and farmers actually transcending from one generation to the next. “For many of us, it is a family business, and we forge not only business relationships but also become like family to our farmer clients. We keep in contact during the winter months and make sure that everything is going as planned or if changes are occurring.”
 
Zeorian’s story begins with her grandfather during the 1950s. At first, he provided custom work for the neighbors, but then he expanded and began making the annual trek from south to north. With a laugh, Zeorian remembers her grandmother’s comment. “Whatever you do, don’t marry a harvester!”
 
“Well, my husband, Jim worked for my grandfather for two summers and later became an electrician. After we got married — I guess it was in his blood — we became a harvester family!”
 
Yes, it’s hard work. It takes a strong work ethic to run pretty much 110-120 days straight, moving from farm to farm to complete the run north. “You know, we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s teamwork. Starting with my grandfather, to my father to Jim and myself and our kids, we’ve grown up knowing we have one goal in mind, and we all work for that end goal. Not one member of our crew is more important than another.”

 

ABOUT U.S. CUSTOM HARVESTERS, INC.

USCHI is a non-profit Association of professional Harvesters, (combine, forage, hay and cotton) all serving the needs of the American farmer. Its goal is to enhance and promote this vital sector of American agriculture. The strength of this organization is its membership, primarily consisting of the individual harvesters such as 
combine, forage, hay and cotton. This organization also includes related businesses and associations in the industry: equipment manufacturers, implement dealers, tire and tool manufacturers, insurance companies, advertising entities and many other related businesses.
 
The USCHI is controlled by an elected board of directors and input from the membership comes in the form of committee reports. Members are invited to the annual
meeting and trade show. Members have the opportunity to exchange ideas, keep up to date with the profession, offers potential work opportunities and covers industry issues.
 
It is a dues-funded, membership organization with the Harvest News magazine as a primary means of communicating with members.

 

SUSTAINABILITY

Custom harvesters play a vital role in our country’s agricultural communities. To learn more, go to the U. S. Custom Harvesters Inc., website: www.uschi.com. Zeorian, although she admits with a chuckle that she is biased, believes the role of the custom harvesters will only continue to increase. “We are here to help farmers out. With our network, I can reach out to our members and help farmers find the custom harvester that will be a good fit for what they need. I’m only a phone call way!”

 

CAPTURED ON FILM

“The Great American Wheat Harvest” is a documentary film that tells the story of hard-working custom harvesters who travel from the heart of Texas to the Canadian border harvesting the wheat that feeds the country and the world.
 
It is a documentary film that tells the story of five hard working families and crews who travel the country harvesting that golden grain that as the film’s producers say, “feeds our Great Country and the World”. Produced by award winning director and producer Conrad Weaver, the film is now touring the nation since its premier at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. on National Ag Day this past spring.

 

ABOUT THE HARVEST

The documentary depicts the lives of the custom harvesters as they pack their bags, stock their RVs, load their crews and families into their trucks and head south for their annual 6-7 month journey that involves hard work, hot weather and the relationships that evolve day to day, month to month and year to year. It shares their love for what they do with the knowledge that they are an important part of feeding a growing international population.
 
Zeorian believes it is important that people know what it takes to get a loaf of bread on the table. “We can’t lose that focus of where our food comes from. Once we do that, how are we going to know what we’re eating?” Zeorian said. “This documentary helps tell that story.”
 
The story captures the history and drama of the custom harvesters of the past and also shares the challenges that are now threatening that way of life passed on from generation to generation.
 
For more information on the film visit greatamericanwheatharvest.com. If interested in purchasing a copy of the film, DVDs can be purchased for $15 plus shipping by contacting the USCHI office.

 

U. S. CUSTOM HARVESTERS INC.