Harvest: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Another summer has flown by. Days are shorter, nights are longer, and days at the beach (few as they tend to be!) have all but ended for 2013 for Prairie farmers. The countryside brims with potential; with heavy, thick crops maturing into beautiful golden-brown landscapes, crops look better than they have in years. The end of August looms ahead, and with it brings the beginning of harvest.

We have been busy preparing our equipment for the long road ahead. Tuning up the combines, fixing the headers, cleaning bins and organizing tools and people has been keeping us busy for the last couple of weeks. Getting ready for harvest is a monumental task. The amount of machinery involved is staggering; multiple trucks and semis, combines with sensitive mapping software and sophisticated threshing and separating components, swathers for cutting canola, bins, tractors, grain carts and augers. Not to mention that throughout all of this, the sprayer continues to run on a semi-ongoing basis, spraying out low spots to prepare them for next year, spraying crops to finish them off for easier harvesting, and constant monitoring for insect threats. Even after harvest begins, we must be ready to seed winter wheat. Indeed, harvest is an operation that brings everything to the table; all the employees, equipment and the entire family must come together to make this happen.

We have started some preliminary fieldwork, such as swathing this field of canola:

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It looks awesome!

We have also preharvested all of our peas, which means we have sprayed them to help finish the plants off. Peas, like some other plants, will just keep growing as long as conditions allow. Glyphosate plus saflufenacil works very well to kill the crop and weeds quickly and completely. Diquat (Reglone) is faster but doesn’t really kill the weeds. They will grow back. Worried about residues in the seeds? Don’t be. The plant no longer has the ability to push much chemical into the seeds. Besides, maximum residue limits are established for all products, and they are extremely strict.

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Field peas ready for a Reglone application to assist crop drydown. Harvest should be ready to commence in 5-8 days.

Although all this preparation may sound a lot like work, the reality is that excitement brews in all of us. The crop looks nothing short of phenomenal, and early harvest results from our neighbors look fantastic. True to farmer fashion, I will not put a yield number on our crop until we get into it, but suffice to say that if it comes off as anticipated, we will make a great deal of financial progress. We are all excited to dig into this crop and see what is out there.

Harvest is the culmination of everything we do all year; all the planning and preparation during the winter months, agonizing over cropping decisions and chemical and fertilizer plans; the marathon of planting that brings us to the edge of sanity; the constant scouting for weeds, disease, insects and nutrient deficiencies throughout the season, desperately trying to avoid a spraying error; and finally, the preparation of all the harvest equipment to ensure the crop comes off on time. Every decision and every error we make throughout the year shows up in the fields as we combine them. Every mistake can now be quantified from our yield maps as we roll through each field. All of our marketing choices can either burn us or gratify us as we determine not only the size of our crop, but the size of the North American crop as well.

Yes, harvest is a season like no other, with equal parts excitement, hope, fear and stress all coming into play. Many things can still go wrong: a strong wind could come through all blow away our swathed canola, heavy rains could downgrade the quality of our wheat and durum, and severely damage the yield at the same time, and, lest we forget, the final factor that has been on all of our minds since that cold night in July; frost (read about that here).

The threat of an early frost still hangs over my head like a heavy black cloud, a fear in the back of my mind that haunts my dreams and darkens the brightest days. While the forecast looks hot and wonderful, and while we know that we will get at least half the crop mature in that forecast period, a great deal of crop is still very green and very late. We need the 20th of September without a frost to gather this crop as it stands. Even if our early crops are record-breaking, freezing out the remaining half would still lead to a losing year. We are not out of the woods yet.

But, these are things that are out of our control. Right now, all we can do is prepare our equipment and do the best damn job we can to harvest this crop in a timely and efficient manner to capture the most yield we can on whatever we can. Tomorrow we will take the first bite out of the first crop we seeded- canola. Will it be ready? It was swathed a week ago today, which may be borderline for readiness. We will try it anyway and see what happens.

We have put a lot of time, money, blood, sweat and tears (literally) into the 2013 crop of canola, durum, peas, hard red spring wheat, and soybeans. I cannot wait to see what it will yield, and I pray that the cold weather will hold off just one more month. This is an exciting crop, and I will be dancing in the streets if we can get it (that’s not really a joke- I’m serious about that). Wish us luck!

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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.