No doubt about it, scheduling is one of the toughest parts of the job for custom harvester Jon Orr of Orrson Custom Farming Ltd., Apple Creek, OH.
“It can really get hectic,” he says. “Sometimes it feels like you're trying to juggle 15 bowling balls at once.”
Making it a point to maintain regular contact with customers throughout the year takes some of the pressure off for Orr. As soon as he can after the harvest season is wrapped up, he talks with each client individually.
“It's pretty informal,” he says. “I usually try to contact them around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'll wish them a happy holiday and ask them for their impressions about how the harvest went and what kinds of things we might do on our end to improve.”
Early in the calendar year, Orr schedules a more formal, sit-down meeting with each customer to discuss specifics for the upcoming season.
“We'll go over things like rates and payment arrangements,” Orr reports. “I'll also ask if there are going to be any significant changes for acreage amounts or if they're thinking about planting any new varieties.”
At those meetings, Orr encourages customers to bring up problems or concerns from the previous year.
“If we did something that they didn't like, this is the time we want to talk to them about it,” he says. “We don't want to wait to address problems until everybody is in full harvest mode and under a lot of pressure.”
If he's working with a new customer, Orr inquires about dates that may not fit into the harvest schedule.
“I have one customer who doesn't want us showing up during county fair week,” he says. “Also, I have some customers who will absolutely not work on Sundays, while others want me at their place on weekends because that's when they can get additional help for packing or covering.
“Knowing those things in advance eliminates a lot of stress during the harvest. There's nothing more frustrating than having a chopper sitting idle in a field on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September when you know it could be out working on another farm.”
With his corn silage customers, Orr makes a point of “touching base” at least three times once the growing season gets under way. “I like to get a report right after the planting season just to see how things went,” he says.
Next, he contacts each client about midway through the season to see if there have been any weather glitches or other problems. He also asks customers to let him know when the corn starts to tassel. “That tells me we're about 45 days away from getting started with the harvest,” he says.
Along with these regular contacts, he encourages customers to call him about unexpected developments.
“Maybe they have a 50-day supply of silage left and need me to chop in 45 days no matter what. Or maybe they're in an area where there's been a drought and need me to get to their place sooner than we originally thought. I need to know about those things as soon as possible so I can try to adjust my schedule accordingly. I'm on my cell phone all the time; it's the single most important tool I own.”
Orr's bottom line: “It's all about getting to know each other. Each operation is different. Even with all the steps we take to maintain good communication, we figure it takes about three years for us to really get to know how a customer wants things done. You simply can't communicate too often.”