18 April 1997

On harvest trail in the Big Country…

AS with every harvest, the Midwest USA harvest recorded by Dylan Winter includes periods of flat-out activity interspersed with spells of waiting, as patiently as possible, for conditions to be right for the job to go forward. What sets it apart is the distance the harvesters travel as they follow the season to keep the tackle rolling.

Work begins in the shimmering heat of Texas and the harvesting team operated by Scott and Linda Payne works its way up through Kansas, Nebraska, Montana and crosses the border into Alberta where the 1996 harvest was treated to a dusting of snow. The outfit traverses the plains roamed by buffalo before the ranchers moved in, the railroads opened up the area and the settlers established their holdings, eventually overworking themselves and their lands.

Todays farmers cultivate much bigger holdings. For example, the teams first client of the 1996 harvest has 9000 acres (they still use Imperial measurements) and both the farmer and his staff live in town, 15 miles from the farm.

Disturbing glimpses of rural depopulation appear throughout the story as the Paynes and their workers move north. The couple began this annual trail 29 years before, with three combines and doing all the work themselves.

Scott, a sober man, quick to praise God, claims he still puts in long hours every harvest, but they have 22 employees now, most of them "rookies" doing the for job for first and last time.

While old-timers they meet recall the flow of itinerant workers that arrived from the town to tackle the harvest in days gone by, this harvest outfit appears to be an island of humanity gobbling up the work at the expense of a trail of broken relationships.

But how the show is kept on the road was hard to fathom. I would readily have swapped sequences of fuel tank filling and arty shots – eg rusting tackle serving as bill boards – for more logistical information. For example, while we hear of the pride Linda takes in ensuring that each menu is different and planned with care – she serves two hot meals a day – we are left wondering how her team of cooks fits into the picture. AR

*The 2000-mile harvest, a 60-minute video presented by Dylan Winter, Farming Press, £15.99, is available from farmers weekly Offers, PO Box 261, Slough SL2 3RU, add £2.50 p&p.