Amazing Woman In Ag: Janel

This article was originally seen in the July/August issue of Pink Tractor magazine. Get your subscription HERE.

Janel Schemper spent her childhood summers different from most of the kids in Holdrege, Nebraska. She couldn’t wait to get out of school for summer to go harvesting. While other kids her age were at summer camp or hanging out at the pool, she found herself in the driver’s seat of a combine, with a coffee can of nuts and bolts on her armrest for added weight to make sure it wouldn’t shut off because of “light weight”. That was over twenty years ago, and she still sits in the seat of a combine every May-November.

Janel is a third generation custom harvester. In the 1950’s, her grandfather left his family farm to hit the road and make a living in the custom harvesting business. Her dad, LaVern Schemper, carried on the tradition with his wife, Carlene, Janel and her three older siblings Julie, JC and Jared. They all grew up on combines. LaVern ran combines while Carlene drove trucks.  


Janel went south for her first harvest at five- months-old. During school-age years, the family would head down when school ended in May. They’d follow the harvest trail all summer long harvesting crops for farmers across Great Plains states of America. Then when school would start back up in August they’d head back home the night before school started.

Dad’s Crew

They were her dad’s crew. He taught them a lot. Janel says, “The combine cab was where I spent my time with my dad or siblings riding along with them and learning all about operating a combine. Otherwise, my time was spent riding with my mom in a truck hauling many loads of grain to the elevators or grain storage sites.”

When they moved from location to location across the Great Plains states following the wheat belt, she would ride with her dad in a truck hauling a combine, and would always feel better riding along with him. He always found a way to include her and taught her that part of being boss is keeping your eyes on everyone and double-checking everything. He’d say, “Janel, look in the mirror and tell me who you see behind us.” She went down the line first to last saying something like, “white top, red top, #3, junior, the pickup and trailer house.”

At the time, she never thought that one day she’d be the one taking the lead and driving a truck and hauling a combine down the road. She says, “I have always enjoyed getting to be a part of the harvest crew! Some things just never change!”

What does she do?

In one short answer, Janel does it all. Janel not only drives the combine, but she is the business website coordinator and hires Schemper Harvesting employees. She also has a Class A CDL with endorsements including doubles/triple trailers as well as tanker and hazardous materials. She hauls her combine and header when they move from one location to the next on the harvest route. She also hauls grain.

Schemper Harvesting operates eight combines, four tractor grain carts and twenty plus trucks. Their run starts in the Frederick, Oklahoma area. Then they journey up the central Midwest states, harvesting wheat fields in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. They’ll also harvest chickpeas, lentils and canola in the northern states. The fall harvest is at home in Nebraska where they harvest corn and soybeans. Wheat is her slight favorite crop to harvest.

Work Ethic, Responsibility and Patience

She learned work ethic as she traveled during those harvest seasons, “Each season has been a great learning experience and I continue to learn and polish my skills every single day.” It takes a lot of work to be a harvester. Typical days in the field are 12-18 hours.

Janel’s dad stressed responsibility at a young age, “My dad taught me to accept and do what was expected of me and to not ever complain about work, but be glad for the opportunity and ability to work.” It wasn’t only her dad who taught her this, but also the harvest, “We count on the farmers for the work probably just as much as they count on us to get the crops harvested on time.” And it’s not only the responsibility to the farmers; she goes on to say, “We harvest the grain that feeds the world.”

One of the most important traits of a custom harvester is patience. Janel explains, “It seems that we are in the ‘hurry and wait’ business. We may push hard to get to our next job or field and start cutting only to find that the crop is not ready yet or where a rain shower beat us to it. Sitting and waiting for grain to dry is sometimes what we have to do. Heat and wind are often what it takes to get appropriate harvesting conditions we need to make progress.”

Why she loves it

Her favorite part of custom harvesting is combine time. She says, “It’s what I enjoy. I like to stay busy and running a combine keeps me very busy. I like production agriculture. I like the challenge of doing my job to the very best of my ability. I work hard for our customers.”

Overall, she loves a standing crop. She says, “Harvesting in tough conditions including damaged crops and muddy conditions is what makes you a good operator.” She loves the ability to make progress.

She has seen a lot of the country and traveled many miles, “I do believe that during summer and fall harvest is when our country’s true beauty really shines. I have a phone full of harvest pictures and can’t believe how many beautiful sights and sunsets I consistently get to see through the windshield.”

Janel feels fortunate to be able to go to harvest with her family year after year. It’s a unique occupation and she knows that it’s not for everyone. She says, “It takes an exceptional work ethic, excellent work habits, honesty, responsibility, a grown up attitude and serious business professionalism and dedication to fulfill a harvest season year after year. The future of agriculture will always be exciting in my opinion. I want to be a part of the continuous excitement.”

Janel With Dog_PinkTractor

Janel attended college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing. A few years later she earned her Masters of Agribusiness (MAB) degree from Kansas State University.

This article was originally seen in the July/August issue of Pink Tractor magazine. Get your subscription HERE.

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