Peter Smith: The joy of the harvest

Farm combine
A combine brings in a soybean crop on a sunny October day near Worthington.
MPR File Photo/Mark Steil

I doubt there's a feeling in the world like the feelings a family farmer must have in the cab of a combine this time of year. Especially with the corn looking as good as it does out there now. They must be giddy. Even the quiet ones who play their cards close to their vests.

Back when comic books were comic books, Disney used to draw Donald Duck's rich Uncle Scrooge swimming elatedly--backstroking through the gold in his vault. Something about seeing a farmer on a combine way out there in a field of corn reminds you of that.

If not Uncle Scrooge, then maybe a Grant Wood farming landscape. Maybe the farmer in that combine cab is awash in the sheer beauty of autumn.

There's the combine itself -- big, complex, and daunting to operate. I'll bet there's a certain testosterone-fueled gratification in knowing with absolute certainty that 99 percent of all Harvard Ph.D.s wouldn't know how to start a combine engine, let alone maneuver it through acre after acre of corn.

It's a powerful machine. I know a farmer who used to be a big-time business executive in downtown Minneapolis. He calculates his combine harvests roughly four office cubicles worth of corn every five seconds. Let's see a Harvard Ph.D. operate that.

Then there are the business mathematics. Farmers constantly calculate and recalculate the number of bushels per acre times the price of corn, as they combine. Then they back out the cost of production.

It's simple arithmetic. You can trust the number once you come up with it. But a farmer on a combine does the math over and over again, hour after hour, day after day -- does it so often that a friend of mine wants to develop a meter for combine cabs that will roll like a taxi fare meter as it calculates profit.

No doubt about it, according to most calculations it's looking darned good out there. Most farmers have good reason to be elated. If I were a farmer, I'd be tempted to stop the combine for a minute, climb down and turn a few cartwheels in the corn stubble.

I'm a city boy, though. So I'll stick to watching them out their combining corn and feeling quietly happy from a distance.

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