Harvesting short crops isn’t always a lot of fun

Crops in many regions of Western Canada are below average and in some areas they’re downright pitiful. You’d think a small crop would mean a faster, easier-than-normal harvest, but that’s not always the case.

While less material to stuff through the combine and less production to haul away should theoretically equate to fast and easy, complicating factors often arise.

Weed growth can be extra heavy in crops that are thin and patchy. Rather than Land of Living Skies, southern Saskatchewan might be called Land of Overgrown Kochia. The big, tall weeds resembling Christmas trees are a huge problem this year, particularly in lentil crops, but in many other crops too.

Various pre-harvest treatments are being used in an effort to dry down the big weeds, but it’s often a tough, slow grind for the combine. An ever-larger proportion of the kochia population is gaining resistance to glyphosate, so that compounds the problem. Some producers have reverted to swathing to deal with weed issues.

In addition to weeds, late-crop growth and secondary-crop growth can delay harvest timing. Distinctly green kernels are a downgrading factor in most crops. You can pull into a field that appears to be ripe enough only to find the green kernel count too high.

Sometimes you can do part of a field where the maturity is more even, leaving patches to do later. Although this may be a good strategy, it creates extra work and additional expense.

Sometimes, rather than finishing one crop type and switching to another, you end up switching back and forth just to find something fit to be combined. Every crop switch means different combine settings, cleaning out trucks and trailers and switching bins.

This is extra work that wouldn’t normally be necessary, wasting a lot of time and energy.

When you finally find something ready to be combined, the thin, short crop stand can create issues with getting the material cut and into the front end of the machine. That might be your capacity bottleneck. You might end up covering fewer acres per day than you would with a good crop.

Hailstorms have also complicated harvest for many producers. Is the crop worth harvesting or should it be cut for cattle feed? If the crop is ready to harvest before hail adjusters can arrive, check strips need to be left.

There’s a psychological aspect to all this. When harvesting a good crop, you have the satisfaction of all the production coming off the fields. A small crop can be just as much or even more work without the satisfying result.

The mental math from the combine seat can be depressing. A 25 bushel per acre durum crop assuming a price of $7 a bu. will generate $175 an acre. A red lentil crop yielding 1,000 pounds per acre at the current price of 15 cents a lb. is worth only $150 an acre.

Comparing those revenue estimates to cash rental rates on farmland can be sobering.

While harvest started early in many regions, it won’t necessarily end quickly. While rain is desperately needed to recharge soil moisture, it would delay harvest further and also reduce crop quality.

If you’re in a region with good crops, count your blessings. Your harvest work will be much more rewarding.

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