The last time we visited with custom combiners Tracy and Jim Zeorian, they were new additions to the MacDon family, having purchased their first MacDon product only two years previous (Wheatfield Nomads, Performance Magazine, Fall 2013). At the time, the veteran custom combiners were one of the dwindling number of single combine operations working North America’s wheat harvest, and among the last on the harvest run to switch to MacDon FlexDrapers. Now, seven years on with all four of their daughters married or in college, the couple are reluctantly beginning to admit that the number of harvests left to them after this, their 37th, are waning.
“I know that the day is drawing near when Jim says OK, I am done with this, and we will have to sell the equipment and retire,” said Tracy from the couple’s trailer home parked for a job near Jordan, Montana. “Even just hanging out here on a rainy day in Jordan, which is one of my favorite places in the world, I need to step back and soak it all in because when we retire we likely won’t make it back here. When it is just a memory, I don’t want to look back and say I wish I had appreciated it more.”
To help preserve those memories and also share the custom cutting experience with a wider audience, Tracy has been posting for the last several years, videos, and stories on the couple’s Facebook page (Zeorian Harvesting & Trucking) and website (nebraskawheatie.com). To her surprise, these postings have gained an avid following from people both in and out of agriculture.
“I sort of decided to tell our story. A daily blog just so people can understand what we do every day, the good and the bad. Not just the highlights,” said Tracy, who does most combining, while Jim drives the grain truck and maintains the equipment. “I’m just amazed by how many people love my stories about the custom harvester, and now think that I’m big in the custom harvesting industry, because I really don’t see that.”
Many of Tracy’s videos are shot from the cab of the couple’s New Holland combine, providing the viewer a chance to see a MacDon FlexDraper in action.
“What you see ahead of me is the reel of the header running and every now and then I will pan across to show the wheat coming in. You can see how the header cuts it and lays it down perfectly. Maybe I’m a little OCD, but I just love watching it.”
For Jim, the decision to move to a FlexDraper remains a positive one for a couple whose livelihood truly depends on keeping their equipment running.
“With some companies in the industry right now, it seems like they don’t want to carry parts, or if you have any questions, you can’t get definitive answers because you are working with multilevel corporations,” says Jim. “But with MacDon, at least I am not too concerned about the thing that hangs on the front of my combine. I know that if I’ve got a problem, I’ve got someone I can call for answers and that I can get parts. That’s very important.”
Both Tracy and Jim believe that the difference in customer service that they’ve experienced lies in MacDon’s culture.
“We know that MacDon is a large worldwide company, yet they’ve been able to keep that small-town feel to the business,” said Tracy. “MacDon’s family mentality is absolutely the best part of the whole company.”
To illustrate, Jim points to a visit he and Tracy made two years ago to MacDon’s headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
“We had been visiting a combiner friend in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and decided on a whim to jump in his vehicle and drive up to Winnipeg to visit the plant. When we got there, Paul Steiner, who we knew because he used to run the MacDon’s Custom Harvest support crew, greeted us and said, ‘you’re going to come and stay at my house.’ The next day we toured the plant, and we met with some engineers who really wanted to hear what we had to say. They even took us to a hockey game. That reception was very unique. We’ve worked with a lot of companies through the years, and visited a lot of plants, but we have never stayed at anyone’s house before.”
“The MacDon employees that we deal with – people like Paul, Karl Brooks, Jim Gladstone, and Gene Fraser – have become more than just people we talk to,” adds Tracy. “We feel a closeness to them. They have become a part of who we are. They are our friends.”
Underscoring how much importance the Zeorians apply to build connections in the industry is HarvestHer.com, another social media project started by Tracy. Started in 2016, the website provides a platform through which women in agriculture can connect and share their stories.
“I know that if I’ve got a problem, I’ve got someone I can call for answers and that I can get parts. That’s very important.”
“I was really feeling a need to be part of promoting the custom cutting industry, but I also had this nagging feeling that it had to focus on the industry’s women who are often the silent partner in the business,” recalls Tracy. “The purpose was to shine a light on what they do and help people to understand that there is more to harvest that just combines, trucks, grain carts, and tractors. There’s also food that needs to be fixed, kids that need to be taken care of, groceries that need to be bought, and clothes that need to be washed. You know, all of that behind the scenes stuff that never gets talked about.”
To help fund the project, Tracy reached out to several companies for sponsorship, including MacDon.
“I remember going to Jim Gladstone with my idea and asking him if he thought MacDon could help, and he was instantly like ‘hey I’m on it.’ It’s wonderful having friends come through for you when you need them the most.”
Today, with dozens of regular contributors and thousands reading their postings, HarvestHer has exceeded Tracy’s initial vision attracting women from not just custom cutting but also across the agriculture industry.
“HarvestHer has created a community for these gals to go to, a place where they can talk about things and have somebody understand what they are going through.”
The group even hosts an annual retreat for up to 20 women at a house that Tracy rents outside of Omaha, Nebraska.
“We have women coming from Oklahoma to Saskatchewan. Contributions from partners like MacDon have been tremendously helpful in covering some of our costs. The gals can leave home and feel like it will not take an arm and a leg to get there. It’s always hard to do things for yourself when you know that the money needs to be for something else.”
Tracy says that MacDon’s support for HarvestHer has only reinforced her and Jim’s understanding of what it means to be part of the MacDon family.
“MacDon has a tendency to make us one header people feel as important as those who own 20 MacDon headers. We are just as important to them as they are to us.”