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Harvest reflections from a Sask. farmer

Harvest reflections from a Sask. farmer

While the Prairies are facing a difficult harvest season, we need to take things a day at a time

By Vicki Dutton

It’s been a stressful harvest.

Our area is late. Very little that has been combined is even close to dry. Some fields with uneven germination due to a dry spring never matured. It will be another winter spent drying grain.  

We were hoping for a good week but it was not in the cards.

On Sept. 30, we awoke to an undesired winter wonderland. The big storm that had been forecast for a week dumped wet, slushy snow.

But we were lucky. We only received a few inches, in contrast to some areas that received feet of snow. The wheat is still standing in our area, so that is good.

On Oct. 1, the snow was melting. It was a wet, muddy day. It felt like Christmas and I was Scrooge.

On Oct. 2, it was still muddy but the snow had mostly melted. Wheat was 28. Fabas were rubbery.

We decided we might as well drive to the grandson’s hockey game, as combining tomorrow was a stretch.

On Oct. 3, we did the crop tour, hoping to find something that might go. Wheat tested over 21. Canola over 14. Fabas were chewy.

The conditions were better than the day before but we could not combine.

I took pictures of the riverbank, including the one for this article. It’s been a beautiful fall, as the trees are in full colour. 

We have not had a killing frost yet, so the leaves have hung on. Other that the blackened canola swaths, it is truly a marvellous vista for those of us who notice. It turns out trees like moist, cool weather better than farmers.

On Oct. 4, the sky was blue and it was windy. We thought we could go.

But three field tests later and nothing was ready. The wheat was still over 20. Some producers can combine wheat at 20 per cent moisture, as they have dryer systems capable of handling the damp grain.  Unfortunately, our dryer system will not handle 20 per cent moisture in grain well.

We decide to move to the hemp as we always take the hemp off damp and dry it. We ran out of day.

The long-range forecast looked decent for the weekend.

On Saturday, we cleaned out the combines from the barley field we could not finish. The crop was still too wet to pick up. We headed down the highway 12 miles. 

Only part of the hemp field was ready, so we did 40 acres.

We moved to the select seed plot of faba beans and harvested 18.5 per cent moisture fabas. All 60 acres. 

Moving field to field is like a parade without the usual fun or fanfare. We had to move combines, the grain cart, the bagger, as well as the fuel and parts truck.

It was a big day. We put in a lot of hours but just took off a few acres. It is slow progress but moving at all seems good.

On Sunday, we went to the canola. It was 11.5 per cent, so we rolled on. 

Finally, the combines were running. Most were in fields of tough-to-damp grain. The canola was a little better, but very little is harvested dry. At least we were rolling.

Monday was good and the weather was great. There was that energy in the air. Everyone was rolling.

But the weekly forecast was mixed. Cold and snow would arrive by Wednesday. If we can only miss the snow. The warmer weather on Sunday and Monday made most of the fields doable if not dry.  

From the forecast, we were on the edge of the system. We were feeling lucky. Those folks in Alberta were not so lucky, especially around Calgary.

It had been a week since the snow. Finally, we were going hard. Tonnes of grain was rolling in as every combine in the country was rolling, working long hours. Every capable body and machine were running – in between breakdowns, of course.

The harvest has been unseasonable late all over the Prairies. Most years, we have a lot more done. The 14-year average is 77.8 per cent completed. This year, we are at 47 per cent provincially. My area is likely closer to 30 per cent and some areas are a lot worse that us.  

The delay could mean quality and income loss as sprouted and bleached grain downgrades in the field.  It has been frustrating as showers and rain have interrupted every opportunity to go for more than a few days or even a few hours.

Elevators are posting temporary premiums for immediate delivery of grain.

The farm stress line is overly busy taking calls.

But, amid all the stress, you hear cheery voices saying, “The weather will improve,” and “Remember that year we did not turn a wheel in October?” Others say, “We have taken off a lot of crop in November and December.” Then they add “dry, too!’ with a chuckle. 

These statements show the spirit of a farmer: dealing with a difficult harvest with optimism and even humour. That is why I so admire this community.

There is nothing glib about this halting, horrible harvest weather that will not give a break.

But if you are a farmer, you have learned and live by the golden rule: focus on what you can control. This is a well-practiced and necessary key to stress management in an unpredictable business. If you do it well, you can keep a sense of humour and a perspective on the task at hand in a difficult situation.

The work is stressful, you bet it is. Income has fallen due to trade wars, import bans and global competition. Today, however, the solution is real and simple: getting this crop in the bin, weather permitting.

This is Vicki Dutton from our farm at Paynton, Sask. wishing you good weather and a good harvest.

Vicki Dutton photo

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