For a couple of months, often from midmorning until after dark, Matthew Bennett was on his combine, harvesting field after field of corn and soybeans.
Because of their bounty, the 3,300 acres that Bennett farms with his father, Tim, took longer to bring in this fall. The sheer number of beans and kernels per acre means the combine's grain hopper has to be dumped much more often.
"The yields are crazy," Bennett said. "We can't harvest as many acres in a day, which is a good problem to have."
Their 830 acres of soybeans yielded 50,000 bushels, or 60 bushels an acre -- 10,000 bushels more than last year. The Bennetts' main crop, corn, yielded about 200 bushels an acre, well above last year's record statewide average yield of 164 bushels.
"It's nice to see the hard work in what he has done over the year pay off," said Bennett's wife, Lori. "It's fun to see him excited about it."
There have been other good years, but the combination of growing conditions, prices and good decisions about seed and fertilizer should make this year especially profitable, an estimated $150 to $200 an acre, Bennett said.
"I can't get over how perfect our weather has been from start to finish this year," Bennett said as he guided his combine through a 77-acre field of soybeans.
Despite working night and day for weeks on end, fall is Bennett's favorite time of year.
"To finally get in and see the results of his hard work is something he really looks forward to," his wife said. "It's a combination of excitement and sort of this intensity, this focus to stay on track and go, go, go."
The Bennetts own, rent and sharecrop land in Shelby and Moultrie counties, some of the state's best cropland, about 170 miles south of Chicago. They have added about 2,000 acres since Bennett, 30, joined his father after graduating from the University of Illinois eight years ago.
Harvesting those acres with one combine, which chews 12 to 15 acres an hour, means it ran nearly nonstop. When the combine's hopper was full of soybeans, hired hand Jerry Thompson pulled a tractor alongside, and Bennett dumped them into a wagon on the go while watching an array of digital displays that indicate the machine's operation, the amount of ground covered and of grain harvested.
"Used to be if you were a mechanic, you had it made to be a farmer. Now you have to be a businessman and a computer wizard," said Bennett, who will earn a master's degree in business administration next spring from Eastern Illinois University.
From the wagon, Thompson transferred the beans to a truck, and Tim Bennett or another helper hauled it to the family-owned elevator in Windsor. Most of the Bennetts' corn and soybeans went to Archer Daniels Midland Co. to be processed into products ranging from ethanol to soy milk.
Nearly every bushel of soybeans and much of the corn crop were sold well before harvest, when prices were higher. Estimating his final corn yield as averaging 190 bushels per acre, Bennett expected to gross as much as $500 per acre.
He spent about $2,000 a day to harvest the crop after equipment costs, insurance, labor and 200 gallons of fuel were factored in. Seed, fertilizer and other costs raised the expenses to about $300 per acre, but Bennett still reaped a nice profit this year.
Bennett's combine is comfortable, with an air-ride seat and air conditioning, but the constant hum can get hypnotic. Visits from his children, 6-year-old Autumn and 4-year-old Beau, help break the routine. He also listens to talk radio to stay alert.
"Because I make most of the decisions on seed, it's nice to see what's standing and what's not and how well the plant integrity is holding up," Bennett said. He is also thinking during those long hours driving back and forth about where his combine will go next.
Because their fields are spread out over several miles, the Bennetts think about the harvest in the spring, planting fields so they would be mature when the combine is nearby in the fall.
Now, after the harvest, Bennett is looking ahead to next year. He is analyzing this year's prices and profits, and making planting plans for spring. Then fields will be tilled, and dry fertilizer or anhydrous ammonia will be applied to prepare the soil to grow yet another crop.