Much of America's Wheat Crop is Cut by Professional Custom Harvesters like Kent Braathen
Among this group of agricultural "guns-for-hire" you will find the President of the U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc.
(USCHI), Kent Braathen*.
A second-generation custom harvester himself, Braathen
has been cutting since 1971 when he
started helping his
dad with local contracts near the family's grain farm at Starkweather, North Dakota.
"I grew up doing this," said Braathen
who adds that the lifestyle is definitely not for everybody.
now runs his business out of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and partners with Scott Brown from Devils Lake, North Dakota, says that the wheat harvest will take him from Vernon, Texas, all the way back to Kenmare, North Dakota, in the fall.
But for Braathen
, who's in it primarily because he
loves to drive the equipment says, "It's like being a kid and getting to play with the big toys everyday!
Those hardships and challenges just make the whole experience more of an adventure.
"You can get addicted to it; the chance to go harvest different areas and different crops.
You make a game out of it to see how many acres you can do each year, and if you can do more than last year."
more than four decades of cutting, Braathen
says that he
has seen a lot of changes in harvesting, and one of the biggest is the increasing size of the farms he
says that this is having a significant impact on custom harvesters.
, who had four South Africans on his
crew in 2014, says that USCHI
is working on two fronts to help custom harvesters acquire the foreign workers they need.
says that he
not only invests about a month every year training his
new hires, he
must also ensure that his
equipment is as easy to operate as possible.
And being able to take a bigger cut will only become more important says Braathen
, as more and more of the harvest seems to depend on fewer and fewer people.
"The demand for custom harvesting is not going away.
There will always be a need to get the crop off in a timely manner, and with less farmers to do it our services will only become more important."
*At the time this story was written, Kent was President of USCHI, now John Orr is the new President of USCHI.