Why June is the Most Exciting Month of the Year

With seeding finally wrapping up for us nearly two weeks ago, you might think that things have slowed down on the farm. You would be wrong!

Finishing seeding in June tends to be anticlimactic; by that time, so many other things need to be done that you simply transition from sprinting through seeding to sprinting through everything else. This June has been particularly difficult, with continual, near daily rain and/or thunder showers disrupting our ability to get anything done. On top of that, it has been unusually cool so far this year; in fact, we have hardly needed our air conditioner on in our house! While the power savings are an obvious bonus, it is far too late in the year to not need air conditioning. Crops are behind in their development, and the non-stop rains are starting to take their toll.

Like humans, plants need oxygen to live. When the soil is saturated with water, all the pore spaces inside are filled. The roots cannot access oxygen, and other nutrients like nitrogen, DSC_0027phosphorus, potassium, and the like are all so diluted by water volume that the plant starts to starve. Plants don’t “drown” in the sense that the water itself kills them, they simply cannot access the nutrients they need to live. If water sits on the ground for long enough, the plant will reach a point where it can no longer recover, no matter what the weather does. We have lost many acres already from this, and if the weather doesn’t turn around, more and more acres will die out. The areas that do recover will have already lost an irreparable amount of yield potential.

Frustratingly, the weather forecast is mostly bereft of the weather we need. More cool, cloudy, showery days linger ahead of us before a warm, dry spell is promised to take over. I’ll believe that when I see it, too.

We seem to be in a weather pattern we cannot escape from; a persistently wet and cold climate that just will not break. This is not the first year we have had weather like this, either. Every year since 2010 has been like this, with incredibly stubborn weather patterns that refuse to break. And when they do, they seem to swing hard the other way, turning blistering hot and dry. We get one extreme or the other.

Despite my frustrations, this weather pattern has produced some big crops for us. While 2010 and 2011 were wet enough that acres went unseeded and crops were wiped out from flooding, the last two years have been very good to us, with large crops resulting from the cool, wet weather. So, I don’t want to wish too hard against rain, because you never know when the next one will be. But when crops start to turn yellow from too much moisture (see image below), it’s time for a few hot and dry days.

DSC_0029

Moreover, weather like this is seriously troublesome when it comes to spraying. We have a lot of acres for one sprayer to cover, and we need more than just two half-days a week to get it done. Unfortunately, that’s all we’ve had! We had to spray almost all night earlier this week just to try and catch up before the next big rain pummeled us. Some chemicals need warm, sunny days to work properly, and we simply have not gotten them. So, we spray anyway, hoping for the best, hoping that all the expensive chemicals we applied will actually work.

Despite all that, we have been able to keep up fairly well, with no fields in desperate need of spraying as of today. But that will change if we can’t get a few good days in this week.

Even though the weather has been rather uncooperative, it’s hard to deny that June truly is a fascinating and exciting month. The crop is in the ground, and most of it looks excellent. Aside from some flooded out areas and some fields that are starting to look a little stressed out, most of the crops are enjoying the abundant moisture, particularly the more advanced ones, like the winter wheat. Crops change and grow so fast this time of the year, it can be hard to stay ahead of them. There is nothing I enjoy more than driving around in my truck or on my ATV, looking at our fields.

It is hard to put into words the feelings of pride and excitement a farmer feels when looking at his crops. When will it be ready to spray for weeds? Will it need a fungicide? DSC_0034When will it need one? What kind of bug is that? Is it a bad one? And on, and on, until the final and most common one: What will it yield? There are just so many things that can change throughout a growing season, so many things that you can do to improve yields, and so much potential for error. A single careless moment can cost you so much. Even something as simple as a mixing order mistake when loading the sprayer can severely compromise weed control efficacy, and can largely waste a tank of expensive chemical. Everything you do must be thought out so carefully; there is no room for error.

Maybe that’s why I love farming so much; maybe that’s why it is such an addiction for so many people like me. The fast pace, the big dollars, the big equipment- it’s an adrenaline rush like nothing else. Standing out there in my fields, looking at crops that brim with potential, a brilliant green mass of life, changing every second, fighting for survival… it’s a feeling that is simply unexplainable. Perhaps the simplest word for it is awesome.

DSC_0033

As the days go by, as we push closer and closer to the inevitable harvest season, so many jobs have to be done. We still have close to a week of in-crop spraying left to do, and then fungicide season will begin. The sprayer will be very busy for awhile! In between that, we have grain to haul, grain to move around to prevent spoilage, air drills to clean up and put away, preparations to make for the harvest equipment… it’s a list that never seems to shorten. And, somewhere in all that, we all have yards that need work.

DSC_0022Somehow, through all that, we need to find time to get away and relax, too. Farming will swallow up each and every spare moment you give to it. Sometimes, you just have to take some time off and get away. We did that on Thursday, completing our yearly expedition to Farm Progress Show in Regina, one of the largest farm shows of its kind in North America. It is an impressive and truly massive show to take in, and there is always much to learn! The pace of change in the agriculture industry is staggering.

There is so much that goes on in June, from finishing seeding, to spraying, to going to the lake. I think I’ve shown here that despite its frustrations and challenges, there is no month quite like June. I will try and take in as much as I can for the final week of it.

 

 

Advertisements

Seeding Draws to a Close for Leguee Farms

It is often said that the hardest things in life are the most rewarding. That nothing good comes easy.

I hope they’re right, because 2014’s planting season was anything but easy.

The long, drawn out affair that was #plant14 has finally drawn to a close for Leguee Farms. It was a season full of challenges; from the frustrations of setting up a new drill, to the apprehension and anger over rain that just wouldn’t quit, this year’s seeding operation was difficult, discouraging and nerve-wracking, to say the least.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the wet weather cycle we were in started to fade, giving us the window we needed to finish seeding. A severe storm on the 26th of May stopped us for quite some time, and even when we did get back to the field, we were shocked at just how wet it was. While the surface was hard and fairly dry, digging even a quarter of an inch down yielded soggy, sticky mud. Seeding into these conditions is something we generally try to avoid; mud sticks to the openers, plugging them constantly, and one slip of the tractor tires can get you into trouble awfully quickly. Furthermore, our heavier soils tend to solidify if disturbed while they are wet, which often can severely compromise a plant’s ability to punch through and survive.

Nevertheless, the calendar and the forecast forced us to seed anyway, as June had already begun. We had no choice but to try and plant what we could. After all, we have been forced to do this for the past 4 years, so I suppose we really shouldn’t be all that surprised anymore!Seeding 2014 058

We pushed to finish seeding as quickly as we could, with even more rain just around the corner. The arithmetic was really quite simple: we had only a few days to seed 30% of the crop, a truly insurmountable task for the equipment we have. So, with the knowledge that we would likely be shut down once again, we drove on, trying to seed every acre we could before the next rain.

The rain began all too soon for us. Although we had managed to finally finish seeding our canola and durum (4 of 7 crops completed), over 1,300 acres still remained to go in the ground. I think the biggest frustration was something that every farmer has experienced some time or another; we were shut down on attempt #2 to finish our final soybean field. We just could not get that field finished! Sometimes, a field just happens to be in the storm track, and you can’t miss a single rain.

More rain fell after that, delaying us further, and a cursory glance at the calendar was all it took to realize our time was running out all too quickly. At that point, you begin to do some math. If we don’t get field X seeded, what will happen? What if we can’t get the flax in? What will happen with our production contracts? Will we still have a chance at a profitable year? And on, and on. Even the most optimistic farmer entertains the thought of the probability of unseeded acres.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fields dried up (kind of- at least enough to seed) Seeding 2014 028and we were back out there again. With the equipment we have now, seeding that last 1,300 acres went pretty fast, first with the cursed soybean field, then the wheat, and finally, as of Saturday afternoon, only one field of flax remained. We seeded all day yesterday, and literally one hour from finishing the field, we got rained out. I couldn’t believe it!

This morning, we officially wrapped up seeding for 2014. Yes, there are still some low spots to seed, and yes, we probably won’t have everything cleaned up for a few days, but I’m calling it here- we are finished seeding!

The drill is finally parked!
The equipment is finally parked!

The completion of seeding always brings a mixed bag of emotions. Relief is the main one. Knowing that the crop is in the ground is an incredible feeling, but it comes slowly. Today, Nikon J1 251it is still sinking in, and I think it will be a few days before I can really relax. The unfortunate thing about finishing seeding so late is that there really is no celebration. There is no time to take a few days off, no time to sit and reflect on what has been accomplished. No, in-crop herbicide spraying has already begun, and just as fast as seeding is over, another marathon begins. There is a mountain of data from the controllers on the drills to sort through, Crop and Hail Insurance forms to fill out and send away, quarterly cash flow analysis to go over, and tons of yard work to do.

Yes, completing seeding is a wonderful feeling. But when it happens so late in the season, the marathon only slows down- it doesn’t end. Not yet, anyway. That day will come when the combines are cleaned up and put away and the first blanket of snow graces the landscape. I’m not ready for that anyway. Despite the exhaustion, the frayed nerves, and the now-empty bank account, I’m excited for the next stage of the season. We have arrived at what truly is my favorite time of the year: in-crop herbicide timing!

Nikon J1 131

The Farm Life is a Wonderful Life

If you have read my previous post (The Marathon Concludes… For Now), you know that seeding has been completed and we are well into in-crop spraying. This is a fascinating and exciting time of the year, in which we get to watch the crops we so carefully tried to plant come to life. Each field has its own personality; a visual depiction of the clay, sand and silt that is visible to the naked eye, and the incredible myriad of the microbiological ecosystems that thrive beyond our sight. Every crop, every field and every plant all provide clues with which to diagnose and analyze the sometimes confusing, but always interesting world of plant and microbiological life, and the relationships contained therein. The incredible diversity of the living things present in our soils becomes visible in every plant we grow.

Perhaps this all sounds a little over the top, maybe even a little on the nerdy side. But I have found in my life thus far that if you do not have something that you are so passionate about that you can go on about it the way that I have been, you are missing something vital to your happiness. It doesn’t have to be something as possibly obscure as plant life. Perhaps it is machinery, engines and things that move; perhaps it is books and stories of great and terrible deeds; maybe it is music and the creation of it; or maybe it is something much greater, like the love of another human being; a wife, a husband, a son, a daughter, a mother, or quite fittingly on this day, a father. Life is a wonderful thing, and if you are bored with it, you insult all that was given to you. Find your passion and let it consume you, whatever it may be. Just always remember that the first love must always be the things that truly matter. On that note, happy Father’s Day to my dad, the best man I have ever known, who taught me the difference between right and wrong, and that every action has a consequence that you must always be prepared for. I will never forget the life lessons he taught me.

Maybe this is all a little to deep for a post about a year in the life of a farmer, but if you believe that then maybe you don’t know farmers as well as you should. We get to walk out our front doors every morning and see the beauty of the world unfold in front of our eyes. We know what true silence sounds like, often on those nights so black you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Or sometimes when the sky is lit up like a brilliant mosaic of colours and light, with every star like a shot of brightness in the darkest night. Perhaps it may be on the night that the flickering arms of the Northern Lights reach across the sky, fingers outstretched as if reaching for something out there in the atmosphere that is just out of its reach, so close and yet so far from its brilliant green fingertips. Like I did the other night, when we were on our daunting and exhausting marathon. I had been up for 20 hours, running on only 3 hours of sleep and knowing that the following night would be just as short. I was loading the liquid fertilizer truck with nitrogen and sulfur in the pitch black of the night. When you load up with liquid fertilizer, it takes time as the pump has to deliver nearly 6,000 gallons of product up onto a trailer; it just is not that fast. As I waited for it to load, I saw the most brilliant Northern Lights show I had seen in years. When you have seen these things, and when you can just sit and watch them, sometimes you have a moment of clarity, a brief handful of seconds in which you see that we are indeed so very, very small.

As farmers, we get to experience incredible views like this frequently, and yet we still so often do not truly appreciate the majesty of what we are seeing. For instance, the sunrises and sunsets in Saskatchewan are truly a beautiful thing to watch, quite likely the most colorful in the world. And yet, most days I do not notice it. Sometimes you have to force yourself to just take a minute and watch; but in our busy lives, this can be difficult to do.

I hadn’t really intended to write about this subject today. In fact, I have a whole other subject to discuss. However, for today, maybe this will be enough. Funny how the mind goes off on a tangent. If you let it, you might be amazed where it will take you.

Going forward, I will continue to update you on our progress. We have had windy, wet weather for most days since my last post, so spraying has not advanced much. This will be a busy spraying week, in which we intend to spray the rest of our durum, our peas, and likely our soybeans again. We need to accomplish all of this before Farm Progress Show on Thursday (that is the day we are going to go). Hopefully the weather cooperates!

Furthermore, I hope that you will have interest in the posts that will come specifically about each crop. I am enjoying writing this blog, and maybe you will derive something of interest for you from it. Thank you for reading so far! One stage of the crop year is over, and another has begun.

Seeding Progresses…

It is 10:45 at night and I have just had supper, so I will make this short. Seeding is progressing fairly well, with the half-way point at hand. Tomorrow we will cross the half-way mark of the 2013 seeding season after a little more than a week of seeding. This progress is impressive, but we actually were a little faster last year, so I cannot help but feel that we can do better. Tomorrow we will finish our soybeans, and the day after our peas will also be completed. If things continue at the rate they are currently progressing, by early next week we should have our canola completed as well, leaving only the remaining durum acres and our spring wheat.

If you would have asked me 3 weeks ago if I thought we would be half-done by the 22nd of May, I would have laughed. 3 weeks ago, the ground was still white! Today, unbelievably, we are wishing for rain. What we have seeded is quite dry now, and most of our crop has yet to show its face. Every day seems to be warm, dry, and windy, which we were once happy about, but are now beginning to become concerned. We did get a rain on Monday, but unfortunately the ground we have seeded basically missed it. Ironically, the only fields that did get a significant amount of rain are fields that are not seeded yet.

The wind is becoming frustrating not only because of its drying effect on the soil (and on ourselves!) but because it is seriously disrupting our spraying. Generally, you must spray a field before or immediately after you seed it to take care of weeds before your crop comes up. Weeds can have a devastating effect on the success of your crop; and for some uncompetitive crops with limited chemical options, like peas and lentils, they can literally wipe a crop out. Therefore, completing spraying pre-emergence (called “burn-off”) is vital to the success of the growing season. Very windy days keep the sprayer parked because the spray simply will be blown away before it reaches the ground. Too many days like this in a row can really disrupt our ability to stay ahead of the crops (and the weeds).

Still, we are keeping up (barely) and we may be able to more or less finish seeding within the first week of June. This would be nothing short of outstanding progress, considering the very late start. Indeed, it may have been our latest start ever, and we will be able to finish seeding at quite an average time of the year. This is, of course, assuming there are no major breakdowns and no major rain events. Hopefully we do get some rain, though, or our best efforts of getting the crop in quickly will be in vain. Waiting for that first rain is always very stressful. A lot of money has been planted in the ground, and it could all go to waste simply by missing a couple of key rains.

But enough of that worry for tonight. The goal right now is to get the crop in and get it sprayed with as few mistakes as possible. This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, as the harder you go, the less sleep you get, and the less sleep you get, the more mistakes you make. But this is a fact of life of Prairie dryland farming.

Tomorrow we will try to post some big acres and get our soybeans planted. Wish us luck!