Lessons learned from a long, overdrawn harvest
By Kate Procter
Finally, finally, Harvest 2014 is a memory. There were days when I thought I would not get to write that – or at least maybe not until 2015. But one good thing about bad times is the good lessons that come with them. While a lot of my lessons are of the “well… DUH!!!!“ variety, some are a bit more substantial.
While we all dream about those seasons when the sun shines every day (except the days when we need rain), and the corn comes off the field at 15 per cent, seasons like 2014 teach us things that we don’t get to experience otherwise. For example, I learned not only what white mold looks like in soybeans, but also what a pummeling it can give to your yield. I had never seen the small black chunks, referred to as “rat crap”, in our beans before. But I can’t imagine a better description for it. Add one more consideration to the list of things to think about when choosing varieties.
Lesson #1: Sometimes, it is the things you don’t know you don’t know that get you.
When you finally decide you can’t wait any longer for the beans to get dry in the field and you switch to corn at 10:00 at night, don’t just abandon the flex head out there thinking you will be back before long. Put it under cover. It might rain and freeze ten times in the two months between now and the small window of opportunity you have to go back and pick those beans up. That way, instead of using a crow bar to chip away the ice that has encased the auger, you can spend that one entire sunshiney day combining.
Lesson #2: Plan for the worst-case scenario.
While I was whining to any of my friends who would listen about what a time we were having getting a new dryer functioning, the first question everyone asked was… “Did you already pay for it?” I felt like an idiot saying yes, that I thought that when you bought something, that was part of the deal. Sigh.
Lesson #3: There is a directly proportional relationship between the necessity of new equipment and the number of glitches between paying for it and successfully using it.
I will probably never forget that night with the -20oC wind chill as we worked with our local dealer for hours trying unsuccessfully to get that thing up and running, only to discover that it had come from the factory wired incorrectly, with errors in the electrical schematic, and a virus in the software. On the positive side of the equation, I know much more about this piece of equipment than any other on our farm through all the trial and error. Now if I can just remember the right stuff instead of the wrong…
Lesson #4: You learn a lot about how things work when they don’t.
This experience also made me aware of the Farm Implements Act. Brought into effect by the Ontario government in 1990, “The act helps give farmers confidence in the quality, reliability and safety of new farm machinery when purchasing or leasing, and in the service they can expect from their dealers and manufacturers.The act assures dealers that if the dealership contract ends, they will not be left with expensive inventory...” More information about the Act can be found on the OMAF website at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/ english/engineer/fiap/fiap.htm#1.
Lesson #5: Sometimes help is available if you know where to look.
I got an up-close-and-personal lesson on how little snow will block up a combine if all the conditions are right. “Right” being… snow just at the proper temperature to hide in the leaves, successfully take a ride inside and then stick there. Just imagine the perfect snow for snowmen, snowball fights, and building forts. Yep – there it is – inside the combine. Peering in from the backside, it may look innocent and fluffy, but as soon as I optimistically tried to blow it out with a blast of high pressure air, I realized that stuff wasn’t going anywhere without a fight. But that was OK – there was lots of time while the snow was building up to a foot deep outside to squeeze myself inside and chip it out slowly.
Lesson #6: All snow is not created equal.
I remember last year having cold feet a lot of the time, but never having a chance to do much about it. This year, with all the hurry up and waiting we did, I was able to find an awesome pair of insulated rubber boots that kept me warm and dry. Putting in a pair of insoles with memory foam kept me walking at the end of a 16-hour day. No more old-school felt liners that get jammed up in the bottom every time you put them on. These Baffin Ice Bears with safety features, good treads, and a –50 degrees celcius rating made my feet feel as if they were toasty and warm by the fire. The best part is that I found them within a five-minute drive of home.
Lesson #7: Nothing is quite as bad if your feet feel good.
Kate Procter farms, hikes, canoes, and plays guitar in Huron County.
Probably the best lessons of Harvest 2014, though, came from my Dad, ever the optimist. No matter how bad it seems, he can always remember years that were much, much worse. “You think this is bad? Well in 1992, we had to make half the corn into silage and then mix the 40 percent grain we combined with it. Then we had to… ”
Lesson #8: Remember, things can always be, and have been, worse.
And while the wind screamed outside and I anxiously tried to peer through the sheets of snow, fretting about how we were going to bring 2014 to a close, he was absorbed in glossy brochures from the seed companies, planning about how great 2015 is going to be.
Lesson # 9: Keep your chin up, next year is bound to be better.◊