Summer Storms and Narrow Misses

By all accounts, there is a great looking crop out there.

In some form or another, most farmers around here have said these words, with the makings of an excellent year growing as each day goes by. With a few exceptions, growing conditions for the past month have been nothing short of excellent, helping to repair many of the problems the late, wet spring created. 

Some of our own crops are fantastic, such as this field of peas:

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The plants are lush and a deep green in colour, with beautiful white flowers growing from the tops of the plants, and long, thick pods growing below. There is great potential here, and most of our other fields are more of the same; lush, green, thick and healthy, such as this crop of canola:

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Any year a crop like this is out in the field, anxiety can be hard to master. We have narrowly missed two large storms over the past week, one on Saturday and one on Monday. The storm that rolled through some farms on Saturday can only be described as devastating. Hail the size of baseballs pummeled the ground, roaring out of the sky like meteors for a full half hour, shredding and flattening crops to the ground. Many fields are nothing more than a mass of flat, yellow-brown vegetation, utterly devoid of the life that existed only an hour before the black cloud arrived. Not only were fields destroyed, but trees, pasture and even birds were killed by the terrifying ferocity of a July supercell thunderstorm. Tornadoes touched down in multiple places, leaving destruction in their wake. From Weyburn to Pipestone, Manitoba widespread destruction can be found, with many farmers losing their entire crop. This cloud caused severe crop loss north of us, and didn’t miss us by much:

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Hail insurance can help. But imagine this analogy; you lose your job, suddenly, out of the blue. You receive an insurance payment that is about half of what your wage is, but enough to cover your basic living expenses. However, you cannot work again until a full year has passed by. Your insurance income must cover your needs for a full year, but it is only half of your normal wage! You can understand the stress and anxiety that would come from this, and the utter disappointment and frustration that loss would cause.

Luckily, so far we have missed the so-called “white combine”. But summer is not over; there are still at least two weeks of severe weather possibilities before we pass into the relative safety of August. Then, we just have to get the crop to maturity before a frost and get harvest completed before it rains or snows. 

Almost all of the money we will invest into this year’s crop has been invested. The risk is greatest now, because a total loss could severely damage our ability to farm again next year. But, if we weren’t optimists, believing the worst will not occur, why would we farm?

Spring- Where are you?

Looking out my window, I see only one colour – white. The fields, the yards, the sloughs and everything in between still glisten with the bright reflected glow of the sun as its rays bounce off the icy world beneath. The snow stubbornly refuses to leave, like an infant that refuses a meal. The cold winter air still bites in a manner not unlike the bitterness of the freezer-burnt meat in the freezer.

From the paragraph above, you might think that I have written this for the middle of January, because after all, is Saskatchewan not a winter tundra at that time of the year?

You would be wrong. Today is April 17th, nearly a month since “spring” began. Winter still has a grip on Southeast Saskatchewan, and from what I hear, we are not the only ones. This is rapidly approaching the latest spring melt in recorded history, and as the days and weeks drag on, spring seems further and further away.

You have stumbled upon the blog of a farmer, and here you will find the hopes, dreams, frustrations and sorrows of a dryland grain producer in Southeast Saskatchewan; if you should find yourself with such a lack of important things to do that you wish to read about the life of a farmer, that is! Here, you will experience the day to day life of a farmer over the course of a full year, and the joys, trials and tribulations experienced therein. Today, I will relate to you the aforementioned concerns over a winter that stubbornly refuses to abandon us.

My job, first and foremost, is a farmer. I, along with my parents, my wife and my older sister, operate a moderate sized farm in Southeast Saskatchewan. We seed a variety of crops, including (but not limited to) durum, canola, spring wheat, peas, soybeans, barley, lentils and canaryseed. Our main crops are durum and canola, which we plan to seed in plenty this year, along with peas, soybeans and hard red spring wheat.

Have our plans begun to change? Certainly, worry gnaws at the back of my mind, as it does the minds of most other farmers in the area; as our air drills sit buried under a mountain of snow that stands taller than I do. However, in agriculture, we are battered by countless problems and complications throughout every growing season, and while these difficulties can make our short growing seasons stressful, they do help prepare us for the frustrations of trying to seed a crop in a year where Mother Nature resolutely refuses to grant us a break.

Perhaps my concern over planting in 2013 would be greater if it was actually a new experience for me. Unfortunately, 2011 is a year still fresh in my memory, a year in which a farmer’s worst nightmares came true, a year in which farming never really took place. We sprayed, we disked, we cultivated, and we swore in frustration at the cards we had been dealt. If only, I thought with despair, if only we could have gotten a crop seeded. With the grain prices available today, our struggling family farm business could finally catch the break it needs to go beyond a yearly struggle for survival, and go to a place where the fear of failure can finally be put behind us. But, alas, it was not to be, and we scraped by through that frustrating and fruitless year. 2012 was more kind to us, and our farm made great progress, but we have this one last year in which we can capture the tail end of the remaining lofty grain prices before they come crashing down to the abyss wherein breaking even is the ultimate goal.

Understand, our farm will not fail because of one failed year, despite the negative effects it will have financially. No, instead the hurt stems from the lack of green, growing things to tend to for another entire year, and the joy and adrenaline that grows from caring for 10,000 acres of cropland filled with life.

However, it is much to early to panic, and we may yet come through this late spring alright, and produce the crop we have dreamed of all winter. Hope has not left me (though it has faded a tiny amount). This crop will go in the ground and, as you will learn if you read the ensuing posts that will follow in the weeks and months ahead, optimism is the light of all farmers.

Talk to you soon.