The Un-Harvest

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Harvest is one of my favorite times of year. Farmers and gardeners wait all year long to reap the fruits of their labors.

Some years are better than others and no two are ever quite the same. This has been one of those more challenging years.

Farmers depend on rain but they hardly ever get just enough. It’s a toss-up, which is worse, not enough or too much.

This year it has been too much, right from the get-go. We have been through years like this before but I can never remember when it has been so widespread.

I remember when there used to be a drought or too much rain in certain parts of the country, which means that it didn’t affect prices and total yields so much. However, this year in the Midwest, the East and parts of the South and West have all experienced too much rain.

Farmers play a guessing game when they place their seed orders, which is sometimes a year in advance. They try to choose a variety that fits their soil type and the length of their growing season. Different varieties have different maturity dates but those too depend on moisture and warmth.

This year there was a lot of rain in the spring so some crops didn’t get in when they should have. Then, after the seeds were in the ground it was dry so the seeds laid there dormant.

Eventually, the rains came and the crops got the moisture they needed through the season to grow. It was looking to be a good year. In some fields the beans even got enough moisture to put on extra growth, which means more seed pods, which means more yield, which means more profit.

The only catch to this is being able to get the crops out of the field. In some parts of the country there has been sufficient sunshine and warmth to ripen the seed but the ground is still wet.

Getting the machinery in to harvest the crops is a real challenge. Deep ruts mar fields where machinery has gotten mired down and stuck. Besides being an aggravation, it makes more work. Instead of filling four wagons and pulling them to unload, only two can be pulled at one time, sometimes just one.

Machinery becomes so caked with mud that time has to be taken to clean it. Deep ruts in fields will have to be dealt with which means that fields that were intended for no-till will have to be tilled. This requires more time, fuel and expense.

It is always better if the grain can dry in the field with Mother Nature doing the work. Gas dryers are expensive to operate but a necessity to prevent the grain from spoiling.

In scenarios like this year, farmers have to get when the getting is good. This means maybe an hour or two harvesting each day instead of just getting in the fields and getting it done.

I remember many years when I was growing up on the farm, Dad would be picking ear corn in January or later because that is the first time that the ground would be frozen hard enough for him to get on it. There is no other feeling like the one when your hands and feet are so frozen while unloading the frozen corn, all the while having the fierce wind blowing in your face.

All of these factors affect prices. It comes back to the old rule of supply and demand, how much is making it to market at any certain time. This is not even to mention the role that politics play in the grain market.

So, where am I going with all of this? I cannot count the times that I have heard comments such as “so much rain this year, farmers ought to be happy,” or “produce prices should be way down with all the rain that we have had this year,” etc. What many people do not realize is that more is not always better.

I am not putting anyone down, it is no one’s fault how they are raised. Unless you were raised a farmer, married a farmer or have been around the farming community, you do not understand all the trials they go through.

Sometimes it is even hard for us that are with farmers to understand how tough it is for them to have no control over getting their crops out of the field. After all, this is their once-a-year payday so sitting around and waiting until the conditions are right to harvest has to be so frustrating. And yes, frustration does lead to grumpy sometimes.

There is no such thing as a perfect harvest, although some years come closer than others. So, at night when all is quiet, when I hear the sound of the big fan drying the grain in the bins, I have mixed feelings.

Part of it is comforting to know that at least part of another year’s harvest is “in the bag.” But it also means that part of it is still waiting to be brought in and dried down.

The excitement, the expectation, the worry, the discontent… this is harvest season.

Image courtesy of Lois Hoffman.

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