In farming, no two years are ever the same and teasing out what works and what doesn’t can be difficult because the weather conditions make such a huge difference. Some of the columns I have written in the past provide reminders on how the year went. Some years are carved into our memory – never to be forgotten.
This year, I wrote a column a few months ago about how dry it was, how we were so thirsty for rain and people were wondering if we would have a crop at all. I remember driving through Perth and Huron counties in the middle of summer and seeing cornfields that I was sure would never make a crop. The plants were stunted and the fields very uneven.
I think it must have started raining the day after I wrote that column and it hasn’t stopped since. This fall has been particularly challenging for most farmers across the entire province. Last year we had a wet fall, but this one has been worse.We mudded out the last of our corn on November 22, 2017, then the sun came out and we were able to get the manure out and finish off the year on a high note.
When I reflect back on 2016, we had the summer that never ended – harvest was early, manure spreading was relatively easy, and yields were good, if not bin-busting. This year, in spite of the cold, wet spring conditions that made planting tough, then the scary dryness, crops have been great for us. If only we could get them out of the field. What we have brought in has had some of our highest yields ever. As I look out the window at the snow falling down, though, I’m just wishing for one week of sunshine to get things finished up. Okay, maybe two.
My Uncle Charlie turned 95 this year in October. He and my Aunt Grace still live on the farm next door and he keeps busy and active. Sometimes we have discussions about which is better – my iPad or his android tablet. He has always been a very interesting guy – an adopter of new technology and a fixer of old. He could build anything and in fact, designed and built our grain storage system here. He was a master of recycling and renewing things that to the untrained eye might look like just a bunch of scrap.
This year, we decided to take the plunge and build a new grain handling system, which would replace most of what we had. It all started the summer before when the silo, leaking again, had plugged and we were having trouble getting the corn out. I made a rather negative comment about wishing we could just blow that silo up. Not very respectful for something that had done a good job for over 50 years. As they tend to do, one idea led to another, led to some conversations, led to meeting generous people who shared their knowledge, and more conversations, then a lot of mulling. Then a lot of cheque writing. And a lot of worrying. Would it be done on time? Would it work the way we hoped? Would we be trading old problems that we knew about for new ones that we didn’t?
But as I sit here today, with the last bolts going into the new system, I know that the time had come to make the upgrade. No it wasn’t finished on time, but we have been able to use some of it and it has worked well – speeding up harvest and allowing us to make the most of the few rain-free windows we had. If it would stop snowing, we might even finish harvest earlier than last year.
Uncle Charlie came over to watch as the cranes lifted pieces high in the sky, carefully placing them right where they needed to go. I thought about all the changes that have happened through his lifetime – dryers that have come and gone – and how the work that he and other enterprising farmers like him brought us, step by step, to where we are today through their inventiveness, experimentation, and desire to do something better.
One rainy day he came over and we talked about how the new dryer worked, and some of the differences between it and the system we had before. Then we got into talking about those memorable years – 1957 when he was hoping to go to deer camp and they just couldn’t get the corn out of the field. At that time, they had a two-row picker and 250 acres of corn. With equipment breakdowns and weather challenges, they were behind – but still managed to get some hunting done and finish before Christmas. Then in 1967, they bought a used dryer and got it running on November 1, after many trials and tribulations. Harvest was still finished before Christmas that year.
It was a bit of a pep talk as I was reminded that farming through the years always comes with struggles dealing with the weather, equipment, deadlines that are more like guidelines, or maybe wish lists, and all those unknowable wildcards like vomitoxin, world politics, and resistant weeds.
While a lot of things change, a lot of things do stay the same. It is easy to forget that people make it all happen – our neighbours, our families, the people we work with every day, the people who try things first and share what they learn, the people who supply what we need to grow our crops and feed our animals, the people who fix things when they break. The challenges will always be here to keep us going and thinking and trying to do better – but in the middle of that – it helps to remember and thank the people who make it all happen. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2019. ◊