The glow of harvest

KENYON — As Kenyon began to wind down Monday evening and downtown was nearly deserted, a farmer drove his grain truck up to the Central Valley Cooperative elevator on the east side of town.

Steam pouring out of the top glowed red under the glare of the lights. The grain bins are the tallest structures in Kenyon, as they are in many farm towns.

On that evening, the farmer would be one of a long line of farmers who would bring corn to the elevator during the day and up to midnight. Many would sell the grain. The elevator would dry up to 6,300 bushels of it an hour and ship it out to an Iowa ethanol plant or to foreign markets.

Others pay to have their grain stored in hopes that prices rise later and offset cost of storage. Or they would pay to have the grain dried and bring it back to feed cattle.

During the busiest part of the harvest, CVC was open 24/7; it closes for a few hours each night. On the busiest day last week, about 200 loads were brought in, said Terry Meyer of Kenyon, who works the night shift with Todd Nimon of Red Wing. Loads can be up to 1,000 bushels, but it takes a lot of them to fill the 2.5-million bushel capacity. That’s about 12,500 acres of corn.


When a truck comes in, it follows a precise, almost choreographed ritual, Meyer said. He usually recognizes farmers by sight and starts a new slip. The truck is weighed and he lowers an arm into the grain to grab a sample. As the farmer drives to unload the grain, Meyer or Nimon checks the sample for moisture, weight and if it has too many broken kernels or other debris. If there’s more than 3 percent, there is a deduction.

Farmers drive to a new unloading area, dump the grain and return so the truck can be reweighed to know how much grain came in. Then they drive off.

The ritual can take five minutes.

Meyer said things can get chaotic at times when trucks stack up. He survives on Mountain Dew and cookies. "It’s not the most nutritious diet on the night shift," he said. And he can’t hunt or fish, two of his hobbies.

But he likes it. He knows most by sight and while he doesn’t work the long hours of farmers, he puts in a lot of time. And he sees his work as part of the much wider agricultural system that goes beyond the farm. Other elevators will sell seed, chemicals or do other jobs to support farmer.

"It’s not the most glamorous job," he said. "But it’s close to home and I like the guys I work with." And he helps farmers move their grain.

Near 10 p.m., only one young woman was walking downtown, talking on her cell phone. But on the east side of town, glowing red steam still rose and more farmers brought grain to the elevator.

Staff writer John Weiss travels the region’s back roads looking for people, places and things of interest for this column. If you have ideas, call him at (507) 285-7749 or e-mail him at

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