Farmers frantic to beat snow

Harvest dust once again hangs heavy over prairie fields as warmer weather finally arrived in November, allowing producers to get their combines rolling.

“Usually October is the harvest month,” said Alberta crop specialist Harry Brook.

“The whole of October, I would call a washout.”

Brook said this year’s harvest season has been a one-in-50-year event for cold temperatures and moisture.

“It’s been a long, long, long time since we’ve had such miserable weather in October, and unremittingly too,” he said.

However, only 81 percent of the harvest in Alberta is in the bin, which means many producers need at least another week of favourable weather as they hurry to get crops off.

“Most producers, if they can get out on their fields, are harvesting either wet or damp or tough, just getting it off because the risks economically to leaving it out over winter are just too high, especially with the canola,” he said.

Marie Glover and her husband, Ron have always finished harvest by Halloween during their 36 years of farming near Nevis, in central Alberta.

She said many farmers never worried during September’s wet weather because they figured October would clear up.

“No combines turned here for us in October,” she said.

They were able to get combining again Nov. 3.

“The wheat was 20 percent moisture. We’re aerating it with an in-line heater and we managed in 36 hours to get it down to 14.7 C because it warmed up again,” she said.

Because of the excess moisture in many fields, the Glovers are carefully selecting where they combine.

“We have more sloughs now than we did in the spring. The little potholes are full, whereas every fall they’re usually dry,” she said.

Like most farmers, they’re steering wide of the sloughs by at least two rounds until the fields are complete.

“With an empty combine we will go in light and stay up high and work our way in,” she said.

“If there’s one swath left around each slough, I don’t care. You’re either going to slide into the slough or you’re going to be in the muskrat runs and you’re going to sink out of sight.”

Wet weather continues to plague many producers and Brook said that every few days rain has shut operations down in some areas.

“It’s full ahead, stop. This time of year rain stalls you for quite a while,” he said.

“So it’s really a stop-and-go type of system.”

Glover said the nine millimetres of precipitation that fell Nov. 6 wasn’t forecasted.

“It was like a kick in the gut one more time.”

However, she is thankful for the October-like weather.

“I feel totally lucky to get this harvest weather now. It (rain) just needs to hold off for another four days or so and most people will be done,” she said.

This year, many producers have added grain dryers to their operations and sales are booming.

Deb and Ron Smith farm with their son, Derek, who recently bought a dryer for the operation near Kindersley, Sask. They know several other farmers in the west-central region of the province who also bought dryers.

Deb said for a year like this, the dryer makes sense in combination with aeration bins.

“A lot of us were forced to buy these grain dryers to get the crop off,” she said. “It’s never a bad idea to have on hand, but it’s an item that a lot of people couldn’t afford this year because we’re getting less money for our product.

“They’re quite costly and they’re just one more pain in the butt, but we probably will make good use of ours.”

She said the dryer potentially enables them to start combining lentils a few hours earlier in the day and continue work later into the night.

“It’s pretty short combining days, so you have lots of time to dry.”

Shannon Friesen, acting cropping management specialist for Saskatchewan, said producers will have to continue to take advantage of every break in the weather they get, but harvesting the tough, damp crop is slow going.

“Provincially, I’m hoping we’re at that 82 percent (complete). Even that 18 percent left out is still six or seven million acres. It’s going to take a long time to come off so we’ve likely only gone up a few percentage points over all,” she said.

The double-digit temperatures over the past week have been a lucky break for producers and she said the trend is likely to continue for another week.

Manitoba’s harvest has fared better with about 97 percent of harvest complete. However, farmers with crops still out in fields will find tough going and conditions may need to freeze up before heavy equipment can be used.

Wet conditions have also prevented many fall-seeded crops from being planted.

Pam De Rocquigny, provincial cereal crop specialist for Manitoba Agriculture, estimates the grain corn harvest is 65 percent complete, while flax is about 60 percent and sunflowers are about 40 percent complete.

However, soybeans, edible beans, canola and field peas remain.

“There’s a mad scramble on now to finish harvest. There will be a lot of diesel fuel burned this week, no doubt about it,” said Myron Krahn of Carman, Man., who is president of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association.

Despite the combine being stuck in the mud and waiting for the quad track to pull him out Nov. 9, Krahn remains hopeful the warmer weather will hold.

“The hopper is half full of soybeans and we can’t get the grain cart in here to empty it, so we’re going to count on a big pull here,” he said. “That’s the game we play.”

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