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U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc. meet for annual convention

By Doug Rich

ANNUAL MEETING-Mike Roberts, U.S. Department of Transportation, made a presentation during the annual meeting of U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc. The annual meeting was held March 5 to 7 in Topeka, Kan. Custom harvesters attended combine clinics, forage clinics, and safety clinics during the three-day meeting. (Journal photo by Doug Rich.)

Like any other business, custom harvesters are feeling the effects of a struggling economy but in a different way. They are getting lots of calls from out-of-work truck drivers and construction workers seeking jobs on the harvest run this summer.

Steve Shepherd, president of U.S. Customer Harvesters, Inc., (USCHI) said he has seen a tremendous increase in the number of calls from people looking for work.

"Most of the calls have come from either the east coast or west coast and not so much from the Midwest," Shepherd said. "Those are the areas where the big housing boom was going."

Shepherd, from Onida, S.D., said the majority of the people calling him are from farming areas and grew up on farms. A lot of them still have ties to their family farms.

"I guarantee way more than half of them won't show up," Shepherd said. "We will hire them all and hope five show up."

Many customer harvesters have been using foreign labor with an H2A visa for temporary agricultural work. Shepherd has used H2A workers for the last five to six years.

During the USCHI annual meeting held at Topeka, Kan., March 5 to 7, many of the members expressed their frustrations with obtaining H2A visas for their workers.

"The U.S. government wants to tell us everything from how to house these workers to how to feed them," Shepherd said. "It is very frustrating getting H2A employees through the consulates, into the country, getting them drivers licenses, and then getting them legal to move our equipment."

Complying with different rules and regulations for trailers from state to state as they travel across the country is an ongoing issue for custom harvesters.

"The bottom line is the equipment is bigger; we can't abide by laws that worked in 1982," Shepherd said. "Everything is bigger today."

Shepherd said North and South Dakota worked with them on length laws and allowed them to pull pup trailers. Nebraska laws were different. Shepherd said they finally went to the federal government to get an exemption. Now custom harvesters can haul their equipment across Nebraska from April to December. They face the same issues in Kansas and Texas.

Hauling diesel fuel from their suppliers to their machines is another issue facing custom harvesters. Regulations concerning the transportation of diesel fuel changed after 9/11.

Last season the harvest side of the business did very well but, Shepherd said, the silage side took a hit. Fall crops were late to mature and weather caused delays, which kept the combines out of the fields. It really stretched their season out.

This year custom harvesters are looking ahead to wheat harvest. Drought in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas could hurt their business. Shepherd talked to one of his customers near Seymour, Texas, where it was 93 degrees and the wind was blowing.

"That is pretty tough weather for February," Shepherd said.

Shepherd said custom harvesters make their money when the weather is dry and the fields are big. They need to cut a lot of acres in western Kansas and eastern Colorado to have a good year.

"If that does not happen, we struggle the whole year," Shepherd said.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at richhpj@aol.com.

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