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How to get everyone organized and focused for the long hours ahead.

Mike Wilson, Senior Executive Editor

August 25, 2021

4 Min Read
Preharvest meeting in an equipment shop.
HARVEST PREPARATION: In 2019 Mike Johnson, Chadwick, Ill., held a preharvest gathering for employees and families, vendors, and landowners, then met separately with the farm team to discuss safety protocols. Mike Johnson

“Planting is a sprint; harvest is a marathon,” quips Chadwick, Ill., farmer Mike Johnson. And because it is a marathon involving many moving parts and people, “it’s critical we’re all talking the same language when it comes to safety,” he adds.

That’s why it’s important to gather everyone who may be involved in harvest for a pre-harvest safety meeting.

“The first step is a written safety manual with guidelines,” says Johnson. “The next step is to make sure this is communicated. Our preference is to do this in person in a group setting, for feedback.”

In 2019 the Johnsons had a combination event where they invited employees, their families, vendors, and landowners for a meet and greet, then met with his farm team in a separate meeting that evening to go over safety protocols.

“While that worked well, we felt pushed for time - so for 2021, we will be meeting in an evening before harvest to have less distractions, and to be more focused at the task at hand,” he adds.

A key to a safe harvest is well-designed Standard Operating Procedures. Once harvest begins plans can quickly turn to chaos due to forces beyond your control (weather, equipment breakdowns, elevator snafus, etc.). To ensure you and your team are set up for success this harvest, try these SOP tips from Idaho rancher and consultant Dick Wittman’s Building an Effective Farm Management System.

Set the tone

Begin the process with a preharvest orientation meeting. Invite everyone who may play any part in harvest. Start your meeting with optimistic opening remarks, prayers for safety and a good harvest, and encouraging words that focus on goals and team effort. As the farm leader you’re tasked with keeping everyone focused and upbeat during some very grueling work hours in the next few weeks.

  • During harvest, success hinges on over-communicating and good organization. Clearly assign shop, transport, harvest and grain storage bin duties. Assign each truck driver or combine operator a number, along with other special operations like grain wagon drivers. Clarify how the responsibilities of equipment operators, versus the shop foreman, will work regarding servicing, maintenance, and repairs.

  • Assign someone to oversee off-loading and hauling out operations at grain storage site. Make sure they are well versed in grain bin safety measures (more on that later).

  • Review harvest operations and shop policies. These could include:

    • Operating trucks on the top half of the tank and fuel in evening.

    • Using breaks or idle time throughout the day to do truck and tractor maintenance when possible. This allows enables truck and tractor drivers to assist with combine servicing in the mornings and helps get machines to the field quicker.

    • Go over radio protocols and stress professionalism.

    • When in the field, keep combines in sight and lend assistance when machines are stopped. Always stay within earshot of radio.

  • Don’t use the shop for socializing. During harvest operations, if you need to be in the shop area, be sure you look for ways to be helpful or productive.

  • If it’s part of your farm’s policy, organize skeletal Sunday work schedules, depending on weather and crop conditions. Swap weekends so team members can get a break. 

On the road

  • Turn in scale tickets to the office each night. Be sure to sign, date and time stamp weight slips, especially home stored tickets.

  • Know legal axle weights and gross load limits—haul legal and safe payloads, and don’t abuse hauling unit.

  • Your farm’s brand is on display when you interact with the public and other business partners during harvest. Exercise courtesy and a positive attitude on the road and at grain terminals.

  • Review registration packets in trucks (truck & trailer registration, check license expirations, liability certification, fuel license, etc.).

  • Avoid use of personal vehicles for parts running and farm transport.

  • When you use a part or supply item that needs restocking, note it on a “Parts List” in the shop office. Return invoices to office “invoice basket” after parts runs, making sure to detail purpose or unit affected by the invoice.

A few words about safety

Review the farm’s safety protocols with your team. Clarify location of fire control and emergency supplies and ensure your farm team is well versed in implementing safety protocols. Go over what to do and who to call in case of fire, accidents or other emergencies. Make sure everyone has a printed list of emergency contact numbers.

  • Always keep in mind the location and readiness of pumping units in the event of a fire. Keep disk unit close to combine activity.

  • Remind crew of your zero-tolerance policy concerning consumption of alcohol or non-prescription drugs by drivers of farm rolling stock, regardless of legal age.

  • Go over safety procedures for grain bin sites. There is NEVER a reason to go inside a grain bin without protective gear and a buddy partner.

Building An Effective Farm Management System is a toolkit for farm businesses to implement proven strategies to become a professionally managed farm business. To order the new 2021 edition of the guidebook, go to this link.

About the Author(s)

Mike Wilson

Senior Executive Editor, Farm Progress

Mike Wilson is the senior executive editor for Farm Progress. He grew up on a grain and livestock farm in Ogle County, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Illinois. He was twice named Writer of the Year by the American Agricultural Editors’ Association and is a past president of the organization. He is also past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, a global association of communicators specializing in agriculture. He has covered agriculture in 35 countries.

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