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Editor’s Column

If you happen to drive by our farm in southeast Saskatchewan this summer, you might wonder what sort of landscaping experiment we’re trying on the grass south of the house.

Last month, after my husband filled his sprayer with water from the dugout on the edge of the yard, he accidentally drove by the house with the booms on, spraying a 40- by 10-foot patch of our front lawn with Roundup.

I’m guessing that this hardly ever happens to city people.

Accidents happen

Brad has passed the custom applicator’s course. And he’s very, very careful with his sprayer. Partly because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Partly because farm chemicals are dangerous and so expensive. And also because a lot of our farming neighbours are organic.

But, as he puts it: “I just forgot to hit the switch.”

When he ran out of spray in the field, he shut the pump off but forgot to turn off the booms. After he filled up at the dugout in the back of the yard, he turned the pump on again as he drove past the house, heading to the field. And… well, that’s where things went downhill.

So now we have a brown patch on the front lawn.

It may seem that I’m picking on my husband here, but I’m not, really. Because I know he’s far from the only Prairie farmer to have this type of accident.

One of the neighbours noticed our lawn when she dropped in last weekend. She told me something similar had happened on their farm a few years ago. Her son meant to spray for dandelions. He had good intentions, but he was a was little mixed up about what exactly was in the tank. “He killed off the whole lawn,” she said. “It took a good three years to come back.”

Another farm wife told me her story over Twitter. “My husband took his CAA (Certified Crop Advisor) course and burned our lawn with 100 times too much fertilizer. It was super green… then dead.”

A farmer from the next town over stopped in for coffee and noticed the lawn. He wasn’t in any position to mock. This spring, he’d taken some chemicals to the lake to get rid of some weeds on his lot. I’m sure you don’t know any farmers who would do this, but rather than buy the more expensive (per ounce) specialized lawn formula, he mixed up his own using farm chemical. But he must have missed a decimal when he did the math. There wasn’t a blade of grass left on his lot. He claims the chemical even curled the edges of the leaves on the trees.

“Before I went to the lake, my wife told me to do the neighbour’s lawn too, if I had any spray left over,” he said. “Thank God I didn’t.”

Farmers are experienced, knowledgeable and careful. But these things happen. Really, it’s surprising that mishaps like this don’t happen more often.

Every spring there are about three weeks when 47 things happen at the same time. The weeds need spraying. The trees need cultivating. Dandelions are popping up all over the yard. The kids have a soccer tournament. We need to pick up seven loads of fertilizer. The grass is so shaggy and long, it looks like we’ve abandoned the place. We have to plant the garden right now or nothing will have time to grow and we’ll have to drive all the way to the city to find a zucchini in September. And — oh yeah. Seeding.

It’s a busy time of year. Under that much pressure, who can say they’d never forget to hit one switch?

The up side

The brown patch on our lawn hasn’t been all downside. In fact, it’s mostly such good news that you might want to try it at home. Here’s the top six reasons that I smile whenever that dead grass catches my eye.

6. There are definitely no dandelions on the brown part of the lawn. We’ve been fighting a losing battle with these yellow demons. Finally, a point for our side. The yellow-flowered survivors on the rest of the lawn can consider this a warning.

5. This is so obvious I almost left it off the list, but of course nobody likes mowing. Like most farmers, we have acres of lawn, so this brown patch barely makes a dent, but I’m pleased with anything that means less mowing. If I ever learn how to run the sprayer, I might do the whole yard another year.

4. In comparison, this brown patch makes the rest of the lawn look incredibly lush and green. It’s amazing, really. And this method is much cheaper and faster than using lawn fertilizer and watering.

3. The sprayer accident took place on our own property, and didn’t cause problems for any of the neighbours. (Except for the ones who get neck cramps while they’re driving by slowly, straining and staring to figure out what exactly we’re doing with the lawn. But I’m almost sure they’re not going to win a court case with that complaint.)

2. My husband has shown an amazing level of optimism in the face of adversity. Nearly every day when he walks by the brown path he stops to say something like, “Boy, I can sure see the green shoots starting to come back today.” Or even, “Getting rid of this old grass and putting in some new seed is a great way to revitalize the lawn.”

1. If my husband and I were playing Monopoly, this brown patch of lawn would be my “get out of jail free” card. I’m not always the world’s most attentive driver. I’ve been known to start the combine moving forward into the canola without revving up the engine all the way. I have probably had more trouble than most people when it comes to backing up grain trucks. (Or, as I like to call it, hands-on experience.)

This harvest, when whatever problem I’m going to cause takes place — haystacks in the canola swaths? Close calls with the grain cart while unloading on-the-go? — I can just point at the lawn before there’s any yelling.

Farm safety and harvest

If you think this column proves that I don’t understand the importance of farm safety and you’re about to write a letter saying that farm accidents are no laughing matter, please put your pen down. Of course I know that. The brown patch on our lawn is a glaring reminder that accidents can — and do — happen any time.

We’ll be extra vigilant during the 2012 harvest and I hope you will too. Kids, dogs and personal safety are all more important than bins of wheat.

Our crops look fine so far. We’re hoping our biggest problem will be getting all the canola swathed as quickly as we’d like. At the Swift Current research station field day on July 12, Chris Holzapfel from the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF) demonstrated the research project underway to determine which hybrid canola varieties are best suited to straight cutting. This method would save us a lot of time on the swather, so it would be great if we could make it work on our farm. You can look forward to reading about the results of the IHARF project in Grainews this winter.

In this issue

In case you haven’t taken time to get out your scissors and clip them all, we’ve devoted a few pages of this issue to some of the most popular Grainews articles from the past year.

There’s new material, too. We have a few stories about weed control by Angela Lovell and Lisa Guenther. In the machinery section, Scott Garvey brings home some tales from his trip to the Massey Ferguson plant in Jackson, Minnesota (about 250 kilometres southwest of Minneapolis). With hail insurance claims up this year, I’m sure lots of you will be interested in turning to page 6, where Mark Bratrud shares the experience he had with a claim on his farm last summer.

Happy reading and happy harvest, †


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