When you read or hear “corn silage” you might be thinking thousands of corn cobs in silos. Nope. Corn silage contains the entire stalk and the ears of corn on it. And it is not necessarily put into a silo. In fact, the corn silage harvested where Carl worked was put into a large—and I mean LARGE—pile. The accompanying video to this blog shows some highlights of Carl’s experience hauling corn silage to a nearby dairy, but please read on for additional details.
Carl has been researching workamping jobs for the past several years, and the sugar beet harvest kept rising to the top. Last Fall, as we were making our way back to North Carolina through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana, Carl’s interest was reignited. He contacted a company that was advertising for people to work the sugar beet harvest and began a conversation. Earlier this past Summer, Carl emailed them to inform them of his interest in working the harvest this year. One thing led to another, and they asked him if he’d be interested in working the corn silage harvest as well.
We arrived in northern Minnesota, outside the small town of Gary, in the early part of September and set up camp on an old homestead lot owned by Skaurud Grain Farms. The lot is now used primarily for truck and trailer storage but has several 30/50 AMP electrical hookups and well water and is only one and a half miles from the farm office complex. We were surrounded by red kidney beans and corn.
The corn silage harvest started on September 7, with two shifts of workers working around the clock, six days a week (off on Sundays), until they were done on September 28. There were a few delays during this timeframe, either due to rainy weather or due to the moisture content in the corn. The moisture content needs to be below 70% for it to be harvested.
Carl was one of several drivers who drove a truck, almost the size of a semi-truck, working 2:00pm to 2:00am every day (except Sundays). Another shift of drivers worked 2:00am to 2:00pm. Sometimes he navigated alongside the “chopper” in the field as it mowed down the stalks, chopped them up, and emptied the contents into the truck via a chute. Other times, the trucks were positioned at the edge of a field and were loaded by a cart that followed the chopper around the field. Once the trailer was full, Carl drove to the Waukon Diary, which is part of the Riverview Dairy conglomerate, a few miles away to deposit the load in the pile.
There was no real training; after an hour or so of riding along with another driver, it was a learn-as-you-go experience. At times it was monotonous, waiting for the cart, getting the truck loaded, driving a few miles, unloading the truck, then going back for more. Some fields were close; some were not so close, and many of the roads are gravel which, when dry, can kick up a lot of dust. One night with no wind, the dust was so thick at times it was like driving in a heavy fog in places. Many nights, however, had other challenges. Getting stuck in the mud in the field during or after a rain was common—so common, in fact, that all the trucks are equipped with a “Safe-T-Pull” on the front so tractors can pull them out. One day, one of the trucks slipped off the road and into a ditch, presenting a new problem needing to be solved so the load of silage wasn’t lost. On another night, one of the drivers got a little too close to the chopper, and the diesel tank on the truck was punctured, draining gallons of fuel into the field. Then the truck needed to be towed back to the shop and another truck put into operation, so it was a whole thing that night! And I won’t even go into details on the night one driver backed into another truck, busting up the entire front of it. Hazards on the job of harvesting…
Skaurud Grain Farms is a family-owned and operated business, with over 20,000 acres of owned or leased land for various products—red kidney beans, black beans, wheat, soy, sugar beets, and corn silage—with 6,500 acres used to grow a specific type of corn for the corn silage. The corn silage is used to feed the 10,000 dairy cows at Waukon Dairy (more on this in the next blog post). The pile to which Carl took load after load after load is about 37 feet high and almost the length of a football field. The day after the harvest was completed and the dozers were finished spreading and packing the pile, it was covered with plastic—a huge project in and of itself—with half-tires placed all over it to hold the plastic down. Many of the guys have been sugar beet harvest drivers for years; this is the second season on corn silage, so they know each other. (They call each other by name on the radio which means nothing to Carl at times.) Now the names and faces are starting to make sense so it makes it a bit easier. When we come back in 2023, Carl will be better prepared and know more of the guys.
The sugar beet harvest follows the corn silage harvest, usually starting at the beginning of October. We will share Carl’s experience with that harvest in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!