Bill Reeger, Mary’s brother who manages the grains side of the farm, grows a field of oats every season. It isn’t a cash crop for us; we use the stalks for straw and the seed is sown on our fields in the late fall as a cover crop for the winter. A number of times this week I had written to friends telling about the golden oat field behind our house. When I arrived in May it was only a few feet tall and green. Now is had turned color and if you had asked me I wouldn’t have had any idea if it was ready to harvest. Lo and behold, this week I was working in the market when I looked out the window and saw a new sight!
Bill was making passes across the field and back in his combine, harvesting the oats. From what I could tell he was only going to have to make about 6 passes so I ran out to see if I could ride along before he was done. Bill obligingly let me take the passenger seat, which makes for a great blog!
As we rode along Bill explained to me a bit about the process at hand. I will relay knowledge to you that is quite new to me. The machine we were riding in is called a combine because it performs two functions: cutting the stalks and separating the grain from the stalks. It combines these two tasks which, before the development of the combine, were done by separate machines. The combine is essential for harvesting corn, wheat, soybeans, and oats on a large scale.
The wheel piece on the front of the combine has wheels on either side that follow the counter of the field so the grain is cut on an even plain. Once the wheel cuts the oats it pulls them into the combine. This is where my explanation gets fuzzy but I’ll do my best. Inside the belly of the machine there is a barrel-like chamber where the grain is separated from the stalk. There is some kind of apparatus within the chamber that separates the grain. This apparatus can be adjusted depending on the type of grain being separated. The setting will be different for wheat than for oats and different still for soybeans. After the oats are separated the chaff is released out the back of the combine through a chute and onto the field. From there it can be collected for straw or left to return to the soil. The grain is stored right behind the driver’s cabin.