Farmer prepares for 70th harvest

RAYMORE, Sask. — For 85-year-old Herman Kirstein, nothing beats a fried egg sandwich washed down with ice tea while combining late into the night.

He’s working his 70th harvest right now — his favourite time of year.

“It’s just so enjoyable,” he said Aug. 22 from his favourite chair on the front porch of the farmhouse, about 20 kilometres north of Raymore.

“You watched your crops grow all year and try to do the best you can. And then to get out there and take that off — hard to beat that.”

His son, Duane, and grandson, Dylan, sit nearby, discussing their 1,000 acres of peas that would soon be ready to combine.

If the weather co-operates they would also soon be harvesting canola and wheat on their remaining 2,000 acres.

Kirstein is eager to climb up again into his 2000 John Deere 9750 with 35 foot MacDon header. While it’s a little older than the 2009 John Deere 9770 that Dylan drives, it’s been outfitted with some upgrades.

“We put auto steer in Dad’s combine a few years back to help him and now with the new headers, with the sensors on them, they automatically control the height, so he just has to push the button and sit back and enjoy the scenery,” said Duane.

“He runs just as hard as the rest of us. If the weather’s fit to go, we go.”

Set to go for his 70th harvest, Herman Kirstein (right) stands with son Duane (centre) and grandson, Dylan (left). | William DeKay photo

However, Kirstein’s no stranger to the litany of changes in farming equipment and practices over more than 70 years.

He started driving the family’s tractor to school at age 10, a Case Model C with a crank start and no lights, which was mainly used to run the threshing machine.

Because of his father’s ailing health, he helped out with all the chores and at age 16 quit school to work full time at home on the farm, which also included cattle, horses, chickens and pigs.

That year they bought their first combine, a 1949 self-propelled Massey 26 with a 10 foot straight cut header.

“That was really something because I had got in for a couple of years of threshing using the horses,” he said.

“So that was quite a change when the combine come along. Ooh, that was quite a pleasure.”

He fondly remembers the family piling into the old Chevy one ton and heading into town on Saturday evenings for shopping and maybe some ice cream.

“You put a 45-gallon barrel in the back of the truck and go to the co-op and get it filled,” he said.

“That was your tractor gas supply for the coming week. Probably about 15 cents a gallon.”

Since that first machine 70 years back, the family estimates that they have used 16 combines, which isn’t that many for their size of farm.

“We tend to hang on to our machines quite long,” Duane said.

“I worked for John Deere for six years as a mechanic. We do lots of maintenance, which helps keep these older ones in the field.”

Added his father: “It has come an awful long way, and I hate to think of what it’s going to be like in 20 years’ time. We probably won’t have a driver in the combine.”

However, while he’s seen many changes in farming practices over his 70 harvests, Kirstein said he’s strived to adapt and be progressive.

In 1980, he was one of the first in the area to switch from traditional summer fallow and half crop to direct seeding, which he has done ever since.

What doesn’t raise an eyebrow now used to draw lots of coffee shop talk 40 years ago.

“Everyone didn’t think that it was the right way,” he said.

“ ‘Oh, you’re going to ruin your land and you can’t do that. You’re going to wear that land out by cropping it every year.’ (were some comments he heard).

“Our land is much better now. We have no dust blowing and we’re getting better yields all the time.”

He also has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

“I’ve always enjoyed it because it’s always something different. There’s always changes in it,” he said.

“I’ve got to 70 harvests. Now I’m aiming for 75.”

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