In general, people, myself included, tend to have short memories when it comes to the weather. The stunted, water-deprived corn in July quickly morphed into the crops we thought we’d never get out of the field in October, November, December, and yes, even January, for some of us due to the never-ending rain. We can barely remember those few weeks of dread we felt as the crops were baking in the sun. Sun? What sun?
Having said that – while we may have short memories when it comes to the weather generally, the tough years – whether it be related to weather, or markets, or disease, or some weird politics going on in another part of the world – can sear themselves in our memories. We pull them out to remind ourselves we’ve survived tough times before.
The harvest of 2018 may be one of those years. Prior to this, 2014 was the year for me. It was cold, and wet, and I thought harvesting soybeans in December at 19 per cent moisture was a terrible thing that hopefully would never happen again in my lifetime. Funny how 2014 doesn’t look so bad anymore.
Brussels Agromart has been putting together very interesting weather summaries for the past few years that helps put some actual numbers to our observations. While we may look back on 2018 as being wet, especially during the fall, the growing season itself (May 1 - Sept 30) was actually 20-40 per cent below normal rainfall in our area. Even 2014 was not actually that wet through the growing season, but it was about 100 CHU below “normal”.
After the 2014 harvest, I wrote a column about the top lessons I learned that year. I learned a few new lessons this year, and hauled up some of those from 2014 so I didn’t repeat the same mistakes.
Lesson #1: Sometimes, it is the things you don’t know you don’t know that get you. In 2014, this was a lesson about not leaving the flex head in the field when you have to switch back and forth between beans and corn. This year, it was a lesson about where ice actually builds up inside the combine. And how much it can seem like concrete when you’re trying to chisel it out of there. Thanks to Thomas at Huron Tractor who showed us how to get that all cleaned up.
Lesson #2: Some lessons come back to haunt you. Strangely enough, in 2014 we put up a new drier and had a terrible time getting it up and running. You would have thought that maybe that would’ve been enough for a while but in 2018 we decided to do a more major overhaul of our grain handling system, including a different new drier. And yes, once again, six weeks behind schedule, we were wondering why we ever started down that road in the first place. But once everything got up and running we were able to get the corn out of the field in record time.
Lesson #3: All snow is not created equal. In 2014, I got an up close and personal lesson on how little snow will block up a combine if all the conditions are right. 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. An addendum to that – frost can fill up the combine faster than snow given the right conditions. One snowy night we kept going for several hours with little build up inside the combine. A week later – it took us over an hour at midnight to chip the frost out from around the augers and in the precleaner.
Lesson #4: Nothing is quite as bad if your feet feel good. One of my lessons from 2014 was finding an awesome pair of insulated rubber boots that kept me warm and dry. 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 Celsius rating at least made my feet feel as if they were toasty and warm by the fire. I thought the best part was finding them within a five-minute drive of home. But I since I’m still wearing them five seasons later – the best part is how well they’ve lasted.
Lesson # 5: Harvesting in winter conditions helps you get to know your combine in a whole new way.
a. Know where to plug in the block heater.
b. Remember to disconnect the battery because you likely won’t be combining again tomorrow.
c. It takes longer than you think to chill the combine inside after sitting inside the shop for two weeks.
d. It is possible to have the entire bin full of beans that will not unload.
Lesson #6: Record yielding crops that you can’t get harvested cause a lot more stress than average crops that you do. If you have a record yield, the ones left out in the field also are less likely to generate a crop insurance payout. They just sit there and taunt you until you get them done.
Lesson #7: No matter what the calendar says, the New Year doesn’t start until the old year’s harvest is over.
Lesson #8: Good neighbours make all the difference. Sometimes as farmers, we feel we need to be rugged individuals; never asking for help, never breaking a sweat. But in a year like this, it made a big difference to have our neighbours call and to offer help and to wish us well when we finally did get back into the field. Maybe we should’ve started a Harvest 2018 support group only we’d all be afraid to commit to a time in case we might miss the small window of opportunity to get out there and get it done. Maybe we should get an order of t-shirts: “I survived the Harvest of 2018”.
Lesson #9: Nothing feels as good as being done.
Considering the challenges and trials of a fall that saw the sun stop shining on September 24, there were a few pleasant surprises for us. First, we were amazed at how our beans stood up to the constant barrage of moisture, freeze-thaw cycles, wind, and generally nasty conditions. We still harvested a record yield for us and they eventually went through the combine pretty well. Our new grain handling system worked very well and allowed us to get a lot more done when we were able to get out there. And of course, as in 2014, it is helpful to have the reminders that things can always be, and have been, worse. ◊