Confessions of a botched seeding job

The writer spent a decade growing confident in the seeder, and then came this year and everything went wrong

After 10 years of helping my partner, Bob, on the farm in southern Saskatchewan, I thought I was getting pretty good at the seeding and harvesting parts of the operation.

I did not grow up playing with trucks and tractors in the sandbox, even though I did grow up on a farm. Operating seeding equipment, grain trucks, and combines these last 10 years has all been learned by trial and error and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Until this spring, that is, when the last half section of peas nearly did me in. It shook my confidence, raised my stress level and had me wondering, “what am I trying to prove?”

The closest I had ever been to working in the field was taking lunch to Dad and my brothers. I loved their stories and I loved eating sandwiches in the fields.

Now years later I get to drive the tractors, do the seeding and rolling and the combining. I have been a good student of farming, and in the past, there were incidents: I took out a fence post, clipped a set of harrows parked too close to a corner and dropped my fitbit into the seed tank. (We found it later with more than 30,000 steps logged on it.)

I know enough to stop as soon as I encounter a problem to minimize the damage. After every mishap, Bob would say something like: “Nobody got hurt and nothing is broken.”

This spring I was confident to the point that I started thinking too far ahead to finishing the field and moving on to the next crop. Pride goes before a fall, they say, and this time I was the one who fell.

I plugged the seeder and all its hoses.

It turns out that the seeder had not been delivering seed for about 50 acres before I noticed. We have an older seeder and the monitors are iffy. All the screens were recording numbers that looked correct, until I saw that the fan r.p.m. was creeping up. In due time, I stopped and we had a look.

Sure enough, no seed was being delivered and was all jammed in the bottom under the roller. This meant I would have to redo those acres.

Several fears, doubts and insecurities lurking just below the surface reared their ugly heads. Stewardship of the land is the sine qua non of farming and springtime is the most important time of year for farmers. Mistakes you make in this season will be on display for the rest of the year.

I have learned how to operate our seeder and every year I learn how to fix or replace another part. I look forward to the long hours on the tractor and the routine of filling and talking about the progress in the fields. So, it hit me hard when I realized I had made a rookie mistake.

I couldn’t face up to my botched job right away. The neighbour was still seeding next door and I couldn’t have him wondering what I was doing if I started re-seeding those same passes. Thankfully, I was next to a row of trees, so I moved to the other side, picked a GPS line, and continued (after wasting two hours unplugging the machine). I still had seed and fertilizer, and I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing.

The mile-long rows in a half section offer a lot of time to reflect on your work. I revisited the sequence leading up to the missed seeding and couldn’t remember where things had gone wrong. I determined I must have engaged the fan after the machine was in the ground; too much seed had collected in the hoses and wasn’t going anywhere. Successful routines are built on performance mantras. I established a routine of looking at all the information available to me in the cab: engine r.p.m.s, tractor speed, fan engaged, machine in the ground, seed being delivered, and monitors reading correct amounts and number of acres. I took notes: time of fill, place, number of acres. I looked back at the hoses and the tank in order to spot inconsistencies. And I performed the routine incessantly. Manoeuvring around power poles, grassy strips, sloughs and the odd rock pile kept me busy and attentive. I hate to admit it, I must have lost focus and that had led to the missed acres.

The next day after the neighbour had finished, I started on the missed 50 acres. I was out there all by myself. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on my lack of concentration the previous day.

I concluded I had become too engaged with the activities of other farmers around me: how many acres they were completing, and the size of their machines. I had forgotten what I liked about the seeding process. I had forgotten to concentrate on my own work, to do the best job I could and to do it within a time frame that was reasonable and safe.

I had forgotten the reason I was out there: the miracle of seeds. To plant a seed in the soil and to have it grow is a miracle. To have it provide nourishment for someone is beyond imagination. To sow thousands of seeds and watch them grow is what brings farmers back every year to the land. Seeding is life giving, not only to the farmer, but to the world. It can be a fearful activity, stressful to be sure and full of opportunities to help you feel insecure, but as the saying goes, “there’s no life like it.”

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