Managing a harvest crew like a sports team: do you specialize or cross-train?


As I’ve sat on-and-off on the combine on my family farm, it’s had me thinking more about how we conduct ourselves when it comes to our harvest operations, and who does what — especially in operations that have employees.

Everyone wants to be a part of harvest. It’s the most stressful time of the year, but also the most satisfying. You’ve worked hard all season to watch that crop grow, and have tended to its every need. It gives many a sense of accomplishment.

Managing a crew can be difficult and present many challenges during the dog days of summer, let alone during high-pressure situations. As I was sitting on the combine recently, I found myself thinking about sports at a non-professional level (I know, I know. Hear me out.)

When you’re playing a team sport, you most likely have substitutes. As a coach, if you are in a playoff situation, you are most likely going to put your top players in for the game. However, we all only have so much stamina. Do you keep those top players on and risk injury as players get tired? Do you substitute in the others that may not know the position as well, and too, risk injury?

During harvest season there are many different jobs. There’s managers, mechanics, grain cart operators, truck drivers, combine operators, etc. My question is, do we train each employee in their position to be the very best they can? Or, is this when accidents happen, because the proper breaks aren’t given, or minds aren’t stimulated in different ways?

Conversely, should everyone be well-versed in each job?

It comes down to the age-old question — is specialization a benefit or a drawback?

I took this question to Twitter, to get your opinion on the topic. However, I would love to hear from those of you that don’t play the social media game, to see what you run on your operation. Send me an email: [email protected]!

Here’s what those on the Twitter-verse had to say:

2 thoughts on “Managing a harvest crew like a sports team: do you specialize or cross-train?

  1. I have heard the Who-Does-What-During-Harvest on Real Ag radio several times. But I have never heard talk about those of us who work alone. We have no help no employees.
    I do the repair work, run for parts, service and maintenance. I operate the combine (and if needed the swather) I haul the grain from the combine, sometimes many miles. I unload the trucks, prep the bins move from bin to bin including the neck-wrenching task of spotting the auger. I move everything from field to field and place to place (no more than 10 or 12 miles at a time though). Plus all the day to day things that need be done even during harvest like l livestock chores, cooking and laundry.
    I find that on my own I can only cover so many acres during seeding season and likewise only so many acres during harvest.
    Your show seems to lean to farms that have many family members and employees involved. This is a reminder that not all farms are like that.

    1. Hey Paul — fellow nearly solo farmer here. You’re not alone, for sure. On our farm (sheep and hay, but no grain this year) it’s just me and my partner, and I’m working full time and we have a three year old underfoot (we have no family support). We were lucky to hire a student with a grant this summer, but we do it all — cut, rake, bale. Fence sheep, move, doctor. We’re it for childcare, groceries and cooking, we’re it for welding, wrenching, and parts runs. I know it’s not just one (like you) but I promise you’re not alone in farming nearly solo. Thanks for speaking up. Take care of yourself.

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