The Wheaties Are Coming!



The last week of May signals the beginning of wheat harvest in Southwestern Oklahoma and northern Texas. A sea of golden wheat waves across the plains igniting the annual migration of the custom wheat harvest crews to the area. Common nicknames for the harvest crews are “Wheaties” or “Wheat whackers”.   The crews will spend the summer months harvesting wheat from northern Texas all the way to the border of North Dakota and Canada and beyond.

A typical crew will consist of the owner, their family, and a group of hired hands that travel with them from one wheat field to the next. The owner carries the financial burden of owning the combines, trucks, travel trailers, and assorted other equipment to make the annual harvest migration. The owner’s wife makes sure the family and crew is fed and tended to as needed. The workers run and maintain the equipment, and assist in moving it from one farm to the next. A typical owner nearly always has a farm at his/her home base that extended family members will manage during the wheat harvest season.

Tommy and David checking on the 2013 wheat crop

The third part of the harvest equation is the local farmer growing the wheat. The farmer will often use the same crew each year. More often than not, the “harvest contract” is a good, old-fashioned handshake agreement.   Once the arrangements are in place, the waiting and praying begins.

The crews work efficiently over long hours every day, but weather, dew, and equipment failures will interrupt the harvest schedule. The farmers and custom harvest crews alike pray the hail will stay away and the fields and grain will be sufficiently dry for cutting. Once the crew finishes one farmer’s acreage, they move on to the next farmer.

Some non-Oklahomans have often wondered why OK-TX wheat farmers don’t buy their own combines. The answer boils down to economics. Combines – the machine used to harvest the wheat (think “Frank” from the movie Cars) cost around $400,000.00 new, before you add on the wheat cutting head. Some models can be equipped to accommodate inter-changeable heads, meaning they can harvest wheat, corn, soybeans, etc. Since most wheat farmers in Western Oklahoma don’t grow the other crops, it only makes $ense to hire a custom cutting crew to harvest the wheat. Food for thought:  Next time your daughter wants to rent a limo for the prom or her wedding, let her hire a tractor, cotton stripper, or combine instead – they are worth a lot more than a limousine, and you might just make a farmer’s day!

Wheat harvest time is not all work and no play. Along with the unexpected weather delays, most crew members, affectionately known as “Wheaties” or “Wheat-whackers” to the locals, get an evening or two off now and then to head into the nearby towns. The average Wheatie is in his late teens to early 20s, earning money for college or other interests. When the wheaties come to town, the young ladies of the area check them out. Romances blossom and fade during the two or three weeks the crews are in town. The local guys turn a bit green with envy during this time, but the ones in the know realize, “This, too, shall pass.”

And just like that, the wheat harvest is over for this year. The Wheaties pack up and roll on down the road to harvest the next plot full of waving wheat, golden ripe and ready.

Thank you for joining me once again on the Red Dirt Roads bordering the wheat fields of Southwestern Oklahoma.  Join me next time for a couple of book reviews.

Always in Red Dirt,

Southwest Sara

For a quick video look at a wheat harvest in progress in the Frederick area, watch this YouTube video.

Combine pricing can be found here:
Sources: Tommy Sadler, Dave and Tawna Shultz, Tom Boyer, Neil Johnson, Warren Crawford and personal experiences.