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Opinion

Schrader: Today’s farmer works from dawn to way past dusk

Three generations of Erlenbachs gather in the kitchen on a rainy Saturday, taking a break from harvesting their corn and soybeans. In back are Jamie and son Jackson, with Jeanette and Harold seated at the kitchen table.
Three generations of Erlenbachs gather in the kitchen on a rainy Saturday, taking a break from harvesting their corn and soybeans. In back are Jamie and son Jackson, with Jeanette and Harold seated at the kitchen table.

The days get shorter, the nights longer, but farmers don’t pay much attention to time these days as they rush to complete the harvest before winter sets in.

Wanting to write about farm life during harvest, I asked former Daily Chronicle farm editor Craig Rice to put me in touch with a family who owns close to the average-sized farm, 1,256 acres.

That is how I became acquainted with the Erlenbach family, who live on Lee Road north of Waterman.

Not only did I learn all about their daily lives, but I found out about Harold Erlenbach’s great-grandfather, a colonel in the Union Army who Harold thinks received a land grant and began farming in this area.

The family still owns that ground, part of seven parcels in three counties totaling about 1,000 acres that they farm to this day.

One of their sons, Jamie, returned to farming with his father after he went to college and worked at a seed company for 11 years.

Jamie said it’s in his blood and he is back farming for good. His 3-year-old son, Jackson, was nearby playing with farm toys as we talked, so there could be a sixth generation of Erlenbachs in agribusiness.

Getting back to my original intention – finding out their daily schedule – Harold said they normally get up at 6 a.m. every day during harvest and planting seasons, but Jamie added it could be 2, 3 or 4 a.m. depending on field, crop and weather conditions and how much they have left to get done before fall turns into early winter.

So after a quick breakfast (no steak, eggs, hash browns and toast for them) they head outside to take the equipment to wherever they are combining that day.

For the technically minded: They own a John Deere 9560 STS combine with a 25-foot-wide soybean head and six-row corn head. Harold mentioned that his late father was an Allis-Chalmers man, and they still have some of his orange tractors around the farm. Jeanette packs lunches of healthy-sized sandwiches, apples, a granola bar and lots of water for their 14-or-more-hour day in the fields.

Jamie’s wife, Amanda, generally takes food out to the men at suppertime. She works full time in the entomology department for Monsanto, plus has two young children, so can’t work the farm like Jeanette has all these years.

By the way, Harold and Jeanette work for H&R Block in the offseason, which they have both done for more than 40 years. That helps supplement an income that varies from year to year, depending on the market, weather and crop yield.

They have storage capacity in their bins for 50,000 bushels of corn and 15,000 bushels of beans. They sell about half their crop right away to grain elevators in the area.

I can’t forget to mention that before Jamie rejoined his father on the farm, Jeanette worked beside her husband in the fields for a number of years. No stranger to rural life, she grew up on a dairy farm, one of five Lembcke daughters. Her mother, Helen, was a Bend.

Jeanette still works with the men, handling the unloading of grain into the storage bins. Knowing all this, I now have a greater appreciation for those people we see working in a cloud of dust as we drive down the highway. They don’t have time to watch a new season of TV shows or enjoy a Starbucks on their way home from work.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb IL. His previous columns can be found on his website, www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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