It Hasn’t Rained In 42 Days

6 weeks. That’s how much time has passed since the last significant rainfall came to us. That is the longest stretch without rain (at this time of the year) I have seen in my time on the farm. In fact, according to historical data (click here), this has been the driest May in the Weyburn area in nearly two decades – and a whopping 46 years for the Regina area.

It’s dry. No question about it. The wind certainly hasn’t been helping matters either; yesterday, it was gusting up to 60 km/hr, just like it has so many other days this spring. I honestly don’t remember a spring this incessantly windy. It is actually extremely aggravating doing anything outside in wind like we’ve had. Just look at the graph below – it’s from one of our weather stations. That is a lot of windy days! And, that is only from the last month – April was very windy as well.

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The wind has been stripping what little moisture we had in our topsoil out, contributing to what amounts to a rather patchy crop. The good news is that we got a nice rain right at the start of seeding, and our soil was right full of water going coming out of winter. That left us with a nice buffer, and there is still a lot of moisture in our soil profile. Things aren’t desperate, not yet.

For the most part this spring, we actually had very nice seeding conditions. The soil was moist, planting conditions were perfect, and it wasn’t too hot. We really couldn’t have asked for better seeding conditions, and the majority of our crop shows it – our earlier seeded crop looks fantastic.

The last third of the crop we planted really needs a rain. Only about half to three-quarters of that later seeded crop has emerged so far, with the rest of it still sitting in the ground, waiting for moisture. The result is a patchy crop that is going to be all over the place for maturity.

The one crop suffering more than anything else is our winter wheat. The extensive soil 20170605_123530moisture reserves the other crops are enjoying are long gone for this fall-seeded crop, and it is hurting. We probably have a week to get a rain on this crop before it truly begins to fail. Crops just can’t survive that long without water. Six weeks of dry, windy weather is a lot to ask of any plant.

It has been a long time since our farm experienced a drought. In the last 10 years, we have been far more worried about excess moisture than being short of it. in 2011, we had 17 inches of rain between April and August; and we were saturated to begin with. This year, we have had a half inch of rain since March. Undoubtedly, that is a better situation to be in; there are a lot of farmers up north that are desperate for the dry weather we have been having. Being too wet brings all sorts of problems that we are all too familiar with.

It is too early to give up on this crop. It has a lot of things going for it, especially the early seeded acres. But we are running out of time for the rain to start. If we haven’t seen significant rainfall by the end of the next two weeks, we will be in trouble. Simply put, we need rain and we need it now. If only Mother Nature cared!

 

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What Does Such A Warm Winter Mean For Farmers?

Everybody knows that agriculture heavily relies on the weather. A single storm can change an entire growing season. A drought can be devastating. But we rarely see such extremes. While much of the weather we get can be challenging and surprising, it typically averages out over time. This winter, though, has been a particularly weird one- right?

I’m not going to go into the details of the weather of this winter. Suffice to say, we moved snow once this winter, and you could probably make the case that we just really wanted to run the dozer tractor. This has been a winter with very limited snow and very mild temperatures. We had a couple weeks of extreme cold in January, but realistically this has been one easy winter. February was so warm that we lost what little snow we had before March even started. That is a rare situation.

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Seriously, it’s hard not to have fun moving snow with this thing.

So what are the implications of this? Are we headed for a drought? Is it climate change? Has this ever happened before?

To point out how short our own memories often are, take a look at this picture from 2012. This is February 22nd (photo credit- Sarah Leguee). No snow! That was also an incredibly mild winter. In fact, some2012 winter farmers in Southeast Saskatchewan started seeding at the beginning of April (spoiler alert: it didn’t turn out very well). My point is that winters like this are certainly rare, but not unheard of.

To figure out what a winter like this could mean for us, the best year to look at then is 2012. In this area, crops were good, and it was a pretty successful year. We saw excessive moisture in late May and June, followed by a lack of moisture into the end of July and August. The excess moisture in the spring caused some damage, but it probably saved us from getting burned up in late summer.

On the other hand, we had substantial disease and insect pressure. Was it because of the warm winter? I think it’s fair to say that it had an influence, possibly a major one. One thing our extreme winters give us is an inability for insects and diseases to overwinter here. Most of them must migrate up from the south. If they can survive the winter, it gives them a head start. We saw severe damage from Aster Yellows, we had trouble with Fusarium, and we had problems with a variety of insects. Separating what was caused by the warm winter and what was part of a normal cycle is difficult, but it is fair to say that we could face similar issues in 2016.

The challenge with farming is that every year is different. Parallels between seasons are very challenging to draw out, and due to the climate’s chaotic nature, forecasters have a very hard time forecasting what is to come. So what can we expect in 2016?

One thing we do know right now is that it is dry. Soil moisture is lower now than it was at this time last year, so we have less of a buffer to withstand periods of low moisture. This warm, dry winter has not helped our soils and water bodies recharge like they normally do. I have never scouted crops in the middle of March before, but I did just that the other day in our winter wheat. The soil is thawed, the crop may be breaking its winter dormancy, and it just pretty much felt like spring out there. It is concerningly early for the wheat to be greening up, and a stretch of more normal cold weather could wreak havoc on it.

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This picture could very easily be from the end of May, but it is actually from March 14th.

As the weeks go by and it stays warm, sunny and frequently windy, the soil will continue to dry. We could theoretically start seeding in a couple of weeks (we won’t) with how quickly the soil is drying up. So, yes, drought is a concern, and the longer the weather stays like this, the greater the worry will become.

On the flip side, when the weather does change, it could do so with a vengeance. We have seen time and again over the past several years that when we change weather patterns, the conversion is often harsh. In the spring of 2011, we were considering seeding in mid to late April, until a bunch of snow dropped on our doorstep, followed by cold temperatures and over a foot of rain over the next two months. The weather changed dramatically and pretty much prevented seeding altogether. However, our fields were already full to capacity when that moisture came, so it was a completely different situation.

I guess the point of what I’m trying to say here is that we honestly really don’t know what the growing season will provide. Right now, I’d place my bets on being dry, and that we will be wanting for rain most of the year. But “dry” doesn’t equal “drought”, and I’m far from ready to hit the panic button yet. While this weather may be unusual, we have seen winters like this before, and we will again.

As farmers, we have to take whatever nature throws at us and make the best of it. We never know what weather we have in front of us, and accordingly we have a hard time determining how much to invest in our crops. We can throw all the money in the world at our crops, but if it doesn’t rain, we simply can’t make use of it. However, it is far too early to start worrying about the year ahead. We will not go out and go seeding on the 10th of April, but we might be a few days earlier than normal. Anything can happen over the next 6 months, and that is what makes agriculture so exciting. I can’t wait to see what Mother Nature has in store for us in 2016.

Forecasting More Than Just The Weather

20140104_131641 (1)Winter on the farm conjures up nostalgic images of horse and carriages, old red barns,
and farmers toiling away outside, looking after their animals. While this may still be a reality for some farms, particularly those with livestock, many farms no longer have cattle, pigs or horses around. Many of them, like my own, raise crops during the growing season. So what do we do during the winter? One of the most important – and most difficult – jobs we work at during the colder months is forecasting.

I don’t think I’m generalizing too much to bet that most of you read “forecasting” and immediately think “weather.” While that certainly is a component of our crop year planning, it is a smaller factor than you may think. Why? Simply put: there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

While we certainly pay close attention to long-range forecasts that attempt to give us an estimate of what our growing season will entail, these are only marginally reliable, and we really can’t plan for them. Not yet, anyway. Since the weather is out of our hands, we focus our energy on things we do have some control over.

  1. Selling Crops: While it’s rather debatable that predicting the markets is any easier than predicting the weather, we try our best regardless. Trying to sell your entire crop at the top of the market for a given year is about like picking a Superbowl winner after watching the first game of the season; you might get lucky once, we all know somebody who’s done it a couple of times, but most of us are pathetically, hopelessly wrong. So, we sell a little bit at a time, hoping to catch rallies and avoid dips. Over time, this disciplined approach does tend to prove to be successful. Although it does mean you may not always catch that extreme market peak with any more than 20% of your crop – but that’s better than nothing.
  2. Cash Flow: This moves in lockstep with point #1. We try and forecast our cash flow needs months ahead of time and plan our sales accordingly. While this is really simple arithmetic, there are always surprises that disrupt your plans.
  3. Crop Performance: Growing crops is a bit like planting your garden, only infinitely more complex (assuming you’re not making a living off your garden, that is). Crops are incredibly difficult to predict, and even harder to control. At the end of October,
    our weather station recorded our soil moisture level. We know how much we have to start with, but how much snow will we get? So far, not much! How much rain will we get? Well, the average crop available rainfall from April through August in Weyburn, Saskatchewan is 9.3 inches. So, if we go by that, and assuming the crop needs inches of rain to grow a bushel of grain, we should be able to predict our yields, right? The answer is a wishy-washy maybe; because that “average” takes years like 2015 with 4.4 inches of rain and averages that against a year like 2011 with 20 inches of rain. What exactly is normal? Nevertheless, it does give us a starting point- and that’s better than nothing.Nikon J1 June 004
  4. Equipment Upkeep: What’s going to break in 2016? Is it going to be the old, worn out-looking tires on the tractor, or is it going to be some random bearing on the combine? While it is difficult to predict what parts are going to fail, it’s not impossible. When you’re about to take your car on a big trip to the mountains in the middle of winter and you can’t seem to get any traction on ice, you would probably take a close look at your tires. Will they make the trip? Probably. But what if they don’t? The consequences could be severe. That’s how we look at our machinery when we think about the busy year ahead.

The reason I call winter the planning season is because it’s the one season we have when
we can take a moment and look hard at the year that was. What failed? What does that tell us for next year? Every hour of missed seeding, spraying or harvesting time costs us Case Quadtracdearly. We cannot afford preventable breakdowns. But, at the same time, we can’t go and fix absolutely everything that could possibly fail. The engine on one of our combines could fly apart this year, and that would be a critical failure. But that doesn’t mean we should go and tear the engine down to prevent a massively low-odds scenario.

The same goes for planning our marketing. Tomorrow, a catastrophic event could happen somewhere in the world that could hammer our crop prices. That doesn’t mean we should sell out the whole thing. Everything we do is based on probabilities.

Creating a usable forecast for the growing season requires a great deal of research, too. Every year, new products, services and ideas come to light, and it is critical that we open our minds to any option to make our farms more successful. You always have to be ready to realize your current way of doing things may be wrong – and that somebody somewhere is probably doing something better than you. Friends, neighbours, and of course the Internet are extremely valuable resources to develop new ideas.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” (Robert Burns) certainly applies to farming, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in planning and forecasting. In fact, I believe it drives that point home even harder. If we haven’t figured out what plan B is, what will we do when plan A fails? As dependent on the weather as we are, I prefer to have a plan F.

Winter is a busy time on the farm, and there is no shortage of work to be done, from hauling grain to moving snow to purchasing inputs (read more about what farmers do during the winter here). But it is also the ideal time to plan out the season ahead. We never know what nature will throw at us, but preparing for multiple scenarios allows us the flexibility we need to succeed.

Why is Rain Such a Problem at Harvest?

Maybe this seems like kind of an obvious question, but there is more to this than you may think. Rain raises a whole host of issues for farmers at this time of the year, and is much more than a minor nuisance.

This harvest has been especially difficult so far, with continuous rainy, wet, humid weather plaguing our attempts at combining. Every few days we seem to get more showers, and every night has been frustratingly wet and humid. So, just what does weather like this do to our harvest operations?

  • Soggy fields- Combines are exceptionally large and heavy machines. While they are surprisingly capable despite their lumbering look, too much rain will overwhelm their ability to move around in the fields. Worse, the support equipment tends to be less able Harvest Semisto manage mud, especially semis. Trucks need to be able to get in and out of our fields without getting stuck, and also need to traverse little, narrow back roads that generally lack gravel. With these roads becoming wetter and wetter, we can lose our ability to get to some of our fields. Even the grain cart, attached to a 550 horsepower tractor with tracks, can be overwhelmed in wet conditions. Ever get a 1300 bushel, 55,000 pound, top-heavy wagon stuck out in the middle of a field? Neither have I! And I don’t want to know what it takes to get it unstuck, either.
  • Quality loss- This is arguably the biggest detriment to us in a wet fall. We grow a lot of acres of quality-sensitive crops that are very susceptible to rains when they are mature. Durum in particular quickly loses its glowing amber colour, which is a major factor when it comes to grading. A downgrade from a #1 durum to a #3 can be worth $1 per bushel or more. It’s pretty easy to do the math on that when you grow over 100,000 bushels! Even worse, if the weather stays wet long enough, the crop could become animal feed. Feed wheat right now is worth $3 per bushel less than good quality durum. Ouch! Lentils, green peas and other wheat classes are susceptible as well, and losses can quickly build up in those crops along with the durum.
  • Yield loss- Eventually, given enough rain, even tolerant crops like canola can start to lose yield. How does this happen? Quite simply, the rain washes the seed so much and so aggressively that it begins to lose weight. The lighter each seed gets, the fewer tonnes of grain you end up with at the end of the day. Wheat is the most sensitive to this (of the crops we grow on our farm, that is), and can actually lose quite a large amount of yield to this phenomenon.
  • Expensive field clean-up: This goes back to the soggy field issue; all those ruts you Salford RTSmake with combines, trucks and support equipment must be cleaned up at some point. You’d be amazed how long ruts will hang around if you do nothing with them! This goes right back to basic field tillage, which we usually try to avoid. Tillage burns fuel and uses up iron, and can quickly become a substantial cost.
  • Active weather creates more active weather: When we get trapped in these weather patterns, other events can happen, such as hail, big winds (which can blow away canola swaths in a hurry) and even – gulp – snow. Dry airmasses promote quiet, boring weather, which is what we need.

Of course, the above problems are really only the beginning… worst-case scenarios are much grimmer. Enough rain for enough time will cause far more severe damage, such as sprouting, which can quickly make cereal crops feed; flooding, ruining hundreds of acres of crops; delayed maturity, which is all fine and good as long as it stays cloudy- but that first clear night can lead to early frosts, further reducing the quality of the crop. Are we trending into a worst-case scenario right now? It’s hard to say at this point. If our durum and spring wheat are sprouting, we will find out when we start combining again. Right now, we simply don’t know.

All this uncertainty further complicates marketing. How do we know what we can sell? You Farm Breakevensell wheat based on its quality specifications, which are a total unknown right now. We really don’t even know what the yield will be, since so much of the crop is flooded out from weather this spring. Furthermore, since most of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are facing the same situation, will there be a glut of feed wheat and low-quality durum? Even though misery truly does love company, if everyone has the same quality of wheat, we have nowhere to haul ours to to blend off with better quality stuff. A burdensome supply of low-quality wheat and durum will be difficult to move as well, which weakens our cash flow.

Finally, an exceptionally wet fall such as this one can complicate seeding next year’s crop. For example, 2010 was a fall much like this one. September was miserable, with most of our crop sitting in rains for the better part of the month. Fields were soggy, and never had enough time to dry out before winter came. Winter proved to be a wet one, with substantial snowfall burying wet fields for the duration of the season. 2011 is a year we will remember for the rest of our lives- the year we couldn’t seed the crop. The fall previous was a big part of the reason for that disaster. Seeing a fall turn so wet again is concerning. Especially when we have plans to seed 2,000 acres of winter wheat! We always seed it into canola stubble, which has yet to even be harvested yet. We have 2 weeks to seed that crop before it gets too late. That’s not much time, and the concerns I have for next spring increase my anxiety to get the winter wheat in the ground.

Am I overdoing this here? Am I exaggerating to prove a point? Or am I a typical farmer, always complaining about the weather?

If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know that I am always brutally honest about my concerns and frustrations with the weather. Indeed, as a farmer, the weather controls much of my life: my income, my day-to-day activities, and ultimately my ability to keep doing what it is I love most- growing crops. Weather such as what we are experiencing right now is stressful in a way I don’t think many non-farmers can imagine. Hopefully this blog gives you some idea of what it’s like!

Our farm’s ability to survive depends on being able to sell enough dollars of crop to cover the cost of growing them. This weather is substantially reducing those dollars. I, along with other farmers, talk about the weather so much because every single day changes the potential income of our business. Rain or sun, warm or cool, either way can be good or bad depending on the year. This year, and the last several before it, have given us so much wet weather that I think we are all feeling a little burned out. We need a change.

Come on, Mother Nature. Give us the weather we so desperately need. Give us some sun, give us some heat, and let us get this crop off while it’s still worth something. No more rain!

Harvest Rainbow

It’s All About The Weather Now

It has been just over a week since the Eastern Prairies suffered one of its worst storms in modern history. Mercifully, the weather has improved immensely since, with sun and heat gracing us in most of the days following the torrential rainfall. Many of our crops have recovered fairly well, or as well as can be expected, with some faring better than others. Some plants just have a greater ability to withstand severe weather better than others. Cereals, like wheat and durum, still look excellent, despite some lost acres that are still underwater. Our canola has come a long way, but its yield potential is very much a question mark. Other crops, like our lentils and peas, look quite poor, with a substantial amount of acres flooded out completely, and many other acres with weak yield potential.

We finally were able to complete our in-crop weed control a few days ago with our flax, which is still frustratingly wet. After nearly a week of hot, dry weather, I guess I kind of DSC_0092expected an improvement in the sogginess of our fields. I was unpleasantly surprised, with the sprayer leaving ruts far away from where the water lay. As we now move through some of our crops again with a fungicide, it is still shocking how many acres are lost.

Why do plants die from too much water?

A lot of plants have died from the substantial amount of water in the fields. While much of that water has now vanished, the plants have more or less gone away with it, especially susceptible ones like peas, lentils and canola. Like us, plants need oxygen for life, which is somewhat of an interesting thought, since you generally think of plants as “producing” oxygen. In normal conditions, plants take CO2 and light energy to create sugars, which they use for energy. When light is restricted, they cannot create sugar, so they have to use it, much like we do. When plants are waterlogged, a couple of things happen:

  • Roots cannot access oxygen. While leaves usually have lots of oxygen available from CO2, roots must access it from the soil. Little air pockets in the soil allow roots to “breathe”, but if water has filled all the air pockets, the plant can’t breathe, essentially drowning it. While the plant has some coping mechanisms, they are not overly efficient, and it will eventually be overcome by its inability to access oxygen. The root cells will die, slowly killing the entire root system; without the roots, the plant will die.
  • Since the soil is saturated with water, the plant cannot access the nutrients it needs for life, causing it to starve (more or less). Combined with root death, the plant has no chance to survive.

If the water can leave relatively quickly, say two days or so, the plant will usually recover, as many of them did. But for all too many plants, the water stayed around for far too long.

Not a pretty sight to see, but there are a lot of these spots.
Not a pretty sight to see, but there are a lot of these spots.

At this point in the growing season, we know that a certain amount of production is gone, never to come back. We have probably lost 10-15% of our acres from waterlogging so far, which, when you start to do the math on how much production that can be, is a substantial amount of money. The pressure is even greater now for the remaining acres to yield well, even just to make up for the lost acres.

At least we won’t need to worry about drought now… right?

It pains me to say this even more than it probably irritates you to read it, but despite all of the ridiculous rainfall we’ve gotten this year, and despite all the problems it has caused, sometime, in the next week or two, we will… need some rain. I know! I’ve spend the last two months complaining about too much rain, and flooding, and waterlogging, and everything that goes with it, but it is a sad fact of farming that crops need moisture every few weeks, regardless of how much they had previously. All of that horrendous torrential downpour we dealt with almost two weeks ago basically just ran off, filled up low spots, and killed crop. Since the soil was already full, it simply couldn’t take it any more, and the crop was pretty much unable to use any of it. Since then, we have had nothing but sun and heat, which has been perfect; but, with that comes a net drying of the soil. Soil probes that measure moisture in the ground recorded that canola in the flowering stage of its life uses close to 9 mm (that’s 3.5 tenths) of water per day! It doesn’t take long to empty 3 inches of water out of the soil then, does it?

This monster devours a lot of water!
This monster devours a lot of water!

Yes, I’m afraid that weather just isn’t really ever perfect for farmers, and we can always find something wrong with it! Don’t be too hard on us, though; remember, with 10-15% of our crop now gone, and much of the rest of it coming out of severe stress, we need all the yield we can get out of what we’ve got left out there. We will need all that we can get to make sure we can get our bills paid and hopefully have a chance to try this farming thing again next year (why? I am starting to wonder!).

Summer brings opportunities and hope… and threats

As we move deeper into summer, our crops are slowly advancing into their reproductive stages. This is a critical time of the year, when a rain at the right time can be worth a fortune. The flip side of that is that rain at this time of the year often brings hail, which can be devastating to crops at this stage of their lives.

It may be soon to be thinking about it already, but there is one possibility that looms like a black cloud over all of the hopes we have left for the crop this year. With such a cold and rainy May and June, crops are woefully far behind normal. While we got away with that last year despite our fears, every year is different, and luck can change awfully quickly. The thought of an August or even an early September frost is terrifying. It would devastate many of us.

DSC_0104For now, all we can do is monitor our crops for insects and disease and hope for the best. We have to do everything we can to ensure no pests take away what we have left out in the field, and that means carefully watching for disease, weeds and insects, and spraying for them if and when it is necessary. These are simply to finish the crop; there is nothing we can do now to hasten our crops’ maturity. That ship sailed after seeding was completed. It is in Mother Nature’s sometimes kind, but oftentimes wicked hands what happens to our crops now. I don’t know what the crops’ abilities are to recover from such a hellish spring, but I do know one thing for certain: the success or failure of the crop is now out of my hands. It’s all about the weather now.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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