The Legend of Deibert

With a career spanning over 50 years that embraced innovation, touched lives, and positively influenced the industry, Jim Deibert's story truly is the stuff of legends.

In 1970, Jim Deibert started custom cutting as a hired hand for a couple of harvesters. The following year, he bought a used combine for $11,500 US and went into business for himself. Now, more than five decades later, the man who played an essential role in helping MacDon first prove – and then popularize – the use of drapers on combines is retiring from the custom game. In parking his harvester, he leaves the business as one of its most admired and influential people.

MacDon's first involvement with Deibert came in 1989 when it was looking for someone who could "put a few hours" on a prototype draper. At the time, MacDon's vision was to make a header that farmers could use for both swathing and combining. Deibert, though, immediately saw a wider application.

"I quickly saw how it solved a lot of the feeding and warping issues that we were having with our augers and that we could run as fast with it, or faster. Although we spilled a lot of oil working with it, I knew that draper was my future. I talked MacDon into selling me three of them that first year."

Over the next several years, he worked closely with MacDon engineers to help perfect the product while telling anyone who would listen about its merits. Deibert's influence in the industry was so significant that the early advocacy for the draper concept helped it gain traction faster than it might otherwise have.

"What made Jim perfect for MacDon was that he was always looking for what's next, what's going to make him better, more efficient," said Paul Steiner, MacDon Product Support Supervisor. "His reputation with custom cutters and farmers meant that when people saw him running our drapers, they thought, "If that's good enough for him, then it's going to be good for us too." His unabashed support for MacDon sold us a lot – I mean a lot – of headers over the years."

However, Deibert's legacy is much more than that of a draper pioneer. As a founding member and past president of U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc., he has been a leader for his industry, most notably advocating at both state and federal levels for safety regulations still in use today. He's also helped build awareness of the role custom cutters play in food production, including starring in The Great American Wheat Harvest, an Emmy Award-winning movie about the lives and work of custom harvesters.

His most inspiring legacy, though, is the lives he's touched over the last 54 years, from his regular customers who came to regard him as family to the many young men and women who got their first jobs in agriculture working for him.

"In recent years, I've had to rely on young people from England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia for about half of my crew," said Deibert. "We tried to treat them as we would want to be treated; gave them good equipment, good food, and a good place to live, and they became family. For many of them, the job was a stepping stone to good jobs and other wonderful things. I think somewhere along the way, I became less of a harvester and more of a teacher helping these young people move along in life."

The love and gratitude people feel for Deibert were on full display at his two—yes, two—retirement parties. The first was held in January 2023 in Birmingham, England, at the close of the LAMMA Show, the UK's premier agricultural event. In total, about 70 people showed up to toast Deibert at that event, many coming from afar to attend. Then, just a few weeks later, a second, larger party was held in Deibert's hometown of Colby, Kansas.Deibert picks up the story himself.

"My wife and brother-in-law tell me there's a friend of theirs passing through town at the Comfort Inn who wants to have a drink with us. I say 'okay, I can do that.' As we pull into the parking lot I see this John Deere combine and think what the heck is that doing here in February? Then, on the other side of the combine, I see a sign, 'Jim Deibert Retirement Party,' I couldn't have been more surprised."

Inside, he would find more than 300 close friends, employees, customers, and industry mates at what he calls "just the best party ever!"

"It was crazy, I mean there was even my banker from 20 years ago. I was completely overwhelmed."

Steiner says that both retirement parties are a testament to Deibert's achievements over his career as a harvester and an employer.

"The number of people that came back for the Colby party, and how far they came, says a lot about the kind of person he is. I'm sure there were 20 young people from the UK alone. It just shows how much people care for him."

While it is tough to sum up a career spanning half a century, the auction house that recently handled the sale of Deibert's equipment probably did it best when it wrote, "Jim's reputation for being the best custom cutter in the business is known countrywide." It can't be said better than that.

So what does America's top harvester have planned for his next act?

"We're going to do a lot of travelling, including an Alaskan cruise this summer. I'm also going to learn to fish again."

Check out Jim's 70 from 70 MacDon anniversary feature.


Get MacDon news, offers, product announcements, and more directly to your inbox.