Harvest Season Through the Eyes of a Child
Our son loves harvest season. He gets to take a lunch box of snacks to the field. Great Grandpa gives red licorice to his tractor’s passengers. And on his favorite fall days, our harvest crew cuts soybeans, of which Illinois is the nation’s No. 1 producer.
In fact, if Illinois were a country, it would rank as the fourth-largest soybean producer in the world, behind Brazil, the rest of the United States and Argentina, according to the Illinois Soybean Association. In 2018, Illinois farmers grew a record 698.7 million bushels.
Too young to understand that significance, our son just loves the process of harvesting this oilseed crop, known worldwide for its protein content and oil attributes.
In particular, the soybean header attachment for our combine wins his popularity vote. Even Frank, the cartoon combine, sported a soybean header in the Disney movie, “Cars.” Just remove visions of Frank’s snorting rage and fury. Rather, think of the soybean harvest process as tranquil and smooth, like a ride through Radiator Springs when Lightning McQueen fixed the road.
From the combine buddy seat, our son watches the large rotating reel on the header attachment gently guide leafless, mature soybean plants with its vertical fingers. A cutter bar near ground level rapidly moves its serrated blades to cut the plant like a hedge trimmer. A conveyor belt flows the plant with its bean-filled pods like water into the mouth of the machine.
Our header cuts a swath of soybeans 40 feet wide while it automatically senses and adjusts to ground-level changes. With no hands on the wheel, satellites guide the combine to the opposite end of the field, automatically steering it parallel to the last pass. That gives the operator a chance to fork homemade barbecue meatballs (a field meal favorite) with ease come suppertime.
Like many farm families, ours first planted soybeans in the late 1970s. Our farm’s yields have doubled to tripled since Great Grandpa first planted the crop. Advancements in biotechnology bred soybeans with resistance to herbicides and improved the oilseed’s standability and yield. It also enhanced its value in food, industrial and livestock feed applications.
Great Grandpa vividly remembers the early methods of soybean harvest. At first, a pull-behind combine. Then, a self-propelled combine with no cab, exposing him to dust every other pass. By comparison, our son starts with a pampered vantage point in a climate-controlled cab with satellite guidance and a bit of licorice. No wonder he loves it.