Martin Harder learned the grain-buying business by trial and error and looking back he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
He grew up at MacGregor, got married in 1968 and started farming. It was tough sledding and by 1970, Harder made the decision it was time to earn a living and got into the poultry business working for Clark’s Poultry Farm out of Brandon.
Harder missed the MacGregor area and moved back to Austin three years later to work for the MacGregor Co-op. In 1974, National Grain hired him as a grain buyer.
“Starting in the grain business today is certainly different than back then,” Harder says. “At that time you did everything there was to do. You were the manager, you were the grease monkey, you were the psychologist almost (to farmers). For a guy who started with no elevator experience, it was pretty tough slugging.”
At age 25, and with no experience he started work at the Firdale elevator. His first few hours on the job were tough. The elevator had no electricity. A huge diesel engine ran everything and it took him awhile to figure out shotgun-type cartridges (without the shot) were used to spin the engine over for starting. All the while, a farmer with a load of grain was waiting patiently to dump.
“He must have thought I was the dumbest guy going,” Harder says.
“I remember very clearly the first batch of cars I shipped. It was just a guessing game (so far as grading) and I shipped them out and they unloaded exactly the way I said they were going to unload. That gave me some comfort and I really had a lot of fun from there on.”
Harder was kept on after Cargill took over National Grain, working in Sidney, until he was promoted to area manager in 1978.
In 1980, Cargill built a new elevator in Winkler and Harder was made manager and was there just over seven years.
After several requests, Harder took over management of Cargill’s Elm Creek elevator in December 1987.
Harder says he enjoyed the grain business from the start because it gave him contact with farmers.
[email protected] (This sidebar first appeared in Farmers’IndependentWeekly in 2002.)