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Preparing for early harvest

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Early harvest always brings a unique set of challenges for growers to navigate, and the 2020 harvest will likely be no different. In fact, this season may prove even more difficult as Midwest growers face millions of acres of wind-damaged crops, while others deal with severe drought conditions. 

“As farmers gear up for long hours in the field, the combination of field conditions, fatigue and frustration can lead to deadly accidents if proper precautions aren’t taken,” says Jason Berkland, associate vice president of Risk Management at Nationwide Insurance. “It’s critical farmers use three tools to prepare for the busy harvest ahead – planning, preparation and patience.” 


First, Berkland says it is important for growers to start planning. 

“Farmers need to be aware of field conditions and remain vigilant of the presence of hazards, such as foreign debris blown in from storms or washouts from heavy spring rains,” explains Berkland. “Excessively dry conditions can also warrant extra fire precautions, such as ensuring fire extinguishers are attached to equipment, off-season maintenance has been performed and plans are ready for how to deal with a possible field fire.” 

Growers affected by the derecho’s damage in August will need to make difficult decisions on the harvest ability of their damaged crops. 

Furthermore, he says farmers should plan for handling a wide variety of grain conditions and identify additional grain storage options if any of their bins have been damaged. 


In addition to planning, growers also need to take time to make adequate preparations.

Berkland explains harvesting wind-damaged crops may require additional equipment preparations. 

“First, make sure equipment is ready to go, including replacing any fatigued parts, conducting routine maintenance and ensuring adequate lighting, reflectors and machine guards are in place and functioning,” he states. 

“Combine headers and harvesters can be challenged by downed crops, and proper adjustments to the headers, stalk rolls and gathering chains will be critical,” Berkland adds. “Harvesting wind-damaged crops often requires combine headers to operate close to the ground, and as a result, dirt, rocks and crop residue can require additional equipment maintenance.” 

In addition to equipment maintenance, Berkland says it is important to lay out harvesting plans with the crew and to perform daily cleaning and inspections of harvest equipment. 

Berkland encourages producers to thoroughly clean in and around hot engine components and exhaust systems, while also inspecting equipment for fuel and oil leaks, looking for bearings that might be starting to fail and assessing belt and chain alignments. 

“It may be necessary to clean combines several times a day in extremely dirty conditions,” he says. “Take time to clean windows, mirrors and warning lights.” 


Last, but certainly not least, Berkland encourages growers to practice proper safety standards and remain patient in stressful situations.

“Equipment is fast, aggressive and powerful,” he states. “Farmers harvesting damaged corn will likely experience a machinery plug at some point.”

Before trying to clean plugged-up machinery, Berkland says it is important to remember to shut down and lockout the equipment. 

“If an individual tries to unclog a header while the machine is running, they are at significant risk of being pulled into the machine and suffering a devastating injury,” he says. 

Lastly, Berkland notes growers should be aware of their own physical limitations. He encourages individuals to be sure everyone on the crew is receiving adequate water intake, sleep, mental breaks and help when needed.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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