It is not unusual for today’s custom harvesting crews to hire workers from outside the United States. Women from another country, however, are still a rarity on the harvest run.
David Misener, who operates Green Acres Enterprises from Elk City, Oklahoma, has combine operators from Germany and Australia. Clare Gibbs comes from the town of Temora in the Australian state of New South Wales. Katja Glenk is from Schrozberg, Germany, a small town located between Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Nuremberg.
How they got here
After hearing other Australians talk about the American harvest run, Gibbs thought it sounded interesting.
“The more I drove the combine (on my parents’ farm), the more I loved the idea of coming over here to have a crack at it myself. The plan was born and I started to plan my great harvest adventure,” she recalled.
Glenk, meanwhile, jumped at the opportunity to come to the U.S. to run a combine and see the country.
“It’s always been my dream to come here and see the way farming is done here. And I wanted to get new life experiences and improve on my English,” Katja said.
She comes from a rural background and during an internship for a farmer back home, she learned how to operate and maintain combines.
“I like that I’m always doing something different and not stuck behind a desk in an office all day,” she said.
Similarities and differences
A chef by training, Gibbs worked in the restaurant business for several years before returning to the family farm. “The only similarities between the two jobs would be the long hours,” she said. She averages at least nine hours behind the wheel each day, and machine maintenance and refueling add several more hours to the day.
Misener’s crew runs John Deere 670 combines. Gibbs said she is used to driving a Case 9240 combine in Australia. “We run slightly different programs for the GPS,” she explained. “All our paddocks and farms are pre-loaded into the system. It is mapped out during sowing time, so come harvest the autosteer is already mapped out.” The similarities between American and Australian harvests are many, although the terminology is different. In Australia, a combine is called a “header,” a grain cart is called a “chaser bin” and a field is called a “paddock.” Australian paddocks typically are larger, too. One field Gibbs farms stretches 6 miles long.
Glenk’s agriculture interest runs deep. “I grew up with farming and enjoy driving big machinery, such as the combine and my big square baling machine,” she said.
In Germany, fields are smaller and so is the header by default. However, combines are similar in size to what is used in the U.S.
Earning their keep
The custom harvest world is dominated by men, but Gibbs and Glenk fit in perfectly.
“I’m the first to admit I’m not as physically strong as a man, but I will give it a go and if I need help I will ask,” Gibbs said. “Katja is a great help. We work as a team, and David is always there to give a lending hand.”
Added Glenk, “Most of the farmers we have cut for have found it interesting there are two lady combine operators and think it’s great.”
On the road, Gibbs and Glenk share a trailer. Glenk is teaching Gibbs some German language, while Gibbs helps Glenk with her English. “It’s just like having a sister or best friend with you all the time. It’s pretty awesome,” Gibbs said.
David Misener and his wife, Vereena, have four small children. “They come on the road with us and it is like having a home away from home,” Gibbs added. “We have at least two meals a day together, which is nice.”
Glenk and Gibbs will return to their respective homes in December. From food (Gibbs likes American barbecue and s’mores, while Glenk appreciates Vereena’s taco salad and red velvet cupcakes) to scenery—the 2017 harvest run is an experience neither will soon forget.
Glenk will help her father with his harvest when she returns. She’ll take with her memories of a beautiful—but warm—summer. “The nature is very beautiful. But I don’t need the 40 degree (Celsius) weather.” She was surprised at how many people along the harvest run have German ancestry.
Gibbs, meanwhile, has made lasting friendships.
“The people have been amazing. They are so friendly and helpful. I’ve met some great people that I will be lifelong friends with,” Gibbs said.
Touring the High Plains fulfills a dream of hers. “When I wanted to come to the U.S., this is where I had planned on traveling. I wanted to see the places that tourists miss. I think they are more special sometimes than the big cities.
“This has been the best decision I have ever made. I will definitely be back.”
Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.