It’s the slow humming of the combine, out of sight but not to be mistaken. The sight of golden carpets adorning the countryside, bales of straw popping up here, there and everywhere, children begging to stay out in the garden just a little longer to get a glimpse of the ginormous combine harvester… And the sound of a chorus of expletives drifting from every farm in the area when the rain clouds burst!
Harvest is a hive of activity, it means different things to different people depending on which agricultural sector or job they’re involved in, but when I think of Harvest Time, that’s what springs to mind.
I thought it deserved a blog post of its own since we’re all connected to it, whether that’s directly, or through the digestive we dunk in our cuppa, the tractor and trailer we follow up the road, or even the food we feed our dogs- which is sometimes what the Wheat we grow on our farm goes into.
There’s a lot that goes on behind the grains that go into the end product. I constantly find myself learning more about it all, and this year, especially, has provided a lot of lessons. So, while we wait for the rain to end again so the combine can finish Harvest 2020, let’s have a chat about how this cropping year has gone…
A Soggy Start
Technically, the cropping year begins in the previous Autumn, when the last crop is removed from the field. Winter varieties of crops can be sown from August to February, depending on the variety, and Spring varieties are sown from February onwards. Winter ones are ready to harvest first and generally have higher yields, with more grain produced per acre than Spring crops.
Last Autumn/Winter was a bit of a soggy one though (understatement of the century) so not many fields were drilling with Winter crops, and the ones that were took quite a battering from all the rain and didn’t come through very well or evenly. In fact, I don’t think any Oilseed Rape we drilled for either ourselves or others survived.
When Spring rolled around and the land dried up, it was catch-up time to get the empty fields drilled with Spring crops. Some of the fields of Winter-sown Wheat had quite a few patches (some of them encompassing half the field or more) which had drowned, so those bits also needed re-drilling- not ideal, but expected.
And then, it was like someone put a plug in the sky, and the wet stuff, which had haunted us for 6 long months, disappeared without a trace.
Those little seeds, placed carefully into the soil and lightly rolled to increase the seed to soil contact and encourage germination, were now desperate for moisture and seriously struggling to break through the concrete-like crust our clay-rich soil had baked over the top of them during the random April heatwave. And the fertiliser we’d carefully applied to wake the winter crops up, once the ground was dry enough and there were no worries about it being washed out of the soil, was now just sitting there in said soil, unused, as all growth ground to a halt- at least there was definitely no chance of it leeching away thanks to any rain though!
For a long time, it looked like there probably wasn’t going to be anything to harvest. And that actually didn’t seem so bad, seeing as we didn’t have anything to harvest with.
We’d made the big decision in November-time to swap our Combine Harvester for a new one, which was going to be built in Italy the following March, then be shipped over and arrive with us around May 2020…
Well, that was the plan, before Miss Corona arrived on the world’s doorstep! Funnily enough, the combine was still sat in pieces come March. Timing has never been our strong point but this was a first. Thankfully, the bizarre scenario provided a lot of much-needed laughs for all involved.
Fast-forward through to early Summer, and the rain finally returned. Everything began growing properly again and seemed to get back on track. The crops weren’t very tall or thick, but at least they were there.
In mid-July, the combine arrived in the country and found its way to us, fully put together and raring to go, and went out of the yard 5 days later to cut its first field of a customer’s Winter Barley (we are Agricultural Contractors as well as Farmers ourselves, so most of the work we do is for others, including the combining).
With not much drilled in early Autumn, and no Oilseed Rape surviving, it wasn’t long before it finished all the customers’ Winter Barley (we didn’t grow any ourselves this year), then parked up for a break before the Winter Oats and Wheat were ready in August. It felt a bit strange for the combine to be sat still in the shed for a reason other than bad weather or a breakdown!
Harvest seems to have lasted for an eternity since it kicked off on that sunny July day, and it’s still unfinished as I write this, with some Spring-drilled crops still to cut. So, to save this post lasting one too, I’m going to split it into two halves and cover the rest of harvest (and hopefully the end, if all goes to plan next week) next weekend.
Look out for part two of The Harvest Sagas, covering all things grain moistures and combine workings, next Sunday!