I had about 50 acres left to seed at 10 p.m. on May 15. The forecast was calling for rain starting at about midnight. But that was for Winkler. I wasn’t near Winkler. I was closer to the system that was rolling east.
I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. The system was above me. The temperature plummeted.
Farming has changed for me since I began working off the farm. It’s now both a priority and something I fit in. May 15 was a Monday. I had helped organize a photography workshop for the agronomists and staff of multiple commodity groups that day. I introduced the instructor, sat in on the workshop for an hour or so, then ducked out.
The rain was coming and we needed to push.
Most of the times it’s seamless, but sometimes it isn’t easy to shift from thinking about farming and agriculture, in general, to being alone on a field trying to figure out what keeps plugging that drill run. I absolutely love both, and I’ll contend to the end that they are mutually beneficial.
Since 2012, when my wife and I moved to my family’s farm, we’ve been able to get the crop in the ground without too many setbacks or too much anxiety. But there is always a push. And I wrestle with this. Do some farmers work until their eyes won’t stay open anymore because they’ve been burned by quitting at a reasonable hour? Or, do some farmers enjoy getting caught up in the frenzy?
The land I was seeding that day was light. It could handle a bit of moisture before I’d start to get nervous about whether or not I would be able to get a crop in this year.
For some farmers, that is exactly what stirs them to put in long days, long nights until the crop is in. They have experienced years where a chance of rain in the forecast has meant two or more weeks of conditions too wet for seeding. Or, worse, a chance of rain or other inclement weather events have resulted in a complete inability to seed for that year.
I get that, in theory. And it will remain theory until I experience it first hand.
I enjoyed the push. It was rewarding to work until the job was done. The clouds didn’t break open as I thought they would and I finished seeding mid-morning on May 16. I drove onto the yard, backed the drill into the workshop and woke up my wife, Jamie, for a ride back to the field to pick up the drill fill.
It’s important for farmers to realize that when they push, they tax more than themselves. If they are awake and on the field at 3 a.m., that is felt a long way down the value-chain.
Libertarianism is rampant in farming communities. The belief that government should have a limited role in the lives of the citizens it represents comes easy for those of us who are used to getting things done on our own. But here’s the problem. We don’t get things done on our own.
Service yards stay open late when we stay awake late. Mobile mechanics are on call. And those around us often make themselves available for things like meals or rides. When we break down, there is urgency to getting us back on the field. And too often we expect it and are unhappy when the things we need at 1 a.m. are unavailable.
This is not a call for wholesale change. This a call to recognize that we rely on others, including government, in order to get our crops in the ground and see them through until harvest. There is a complex web of people, groups and industries working longer hours than we do in order to make sure agriculture remains competitive and profitable. And we are all intertwined.
What I do on my farm affects more than my farm. This is important to consider when we push. This is important to consider when we have knee-jerk reactions to policies that seem meddling. It’s us vs. them when we talk about GMOs or other issues of public trust. But those terms are argumentative conveniences, albeit important ones. Really, it’s just us, and the difference between us and them is as negligible as the difference between two shades of the same colour.
We don’t operate on our own. Farmers are not in this by themselves. Like any industry, it’s a thick, mucky mess of connections, threads, trenches, relationship and human nature.
The trickiest part about finishing seeding late at night (or early morning) is getting that last fill of the drill just right. In daylight, my dad and I would seed it out with me on the drill sweeping the last of the soybeans into the tubes of the seeder. It’s not the same at night, when you’re tired. I did well, I think. I didn’t run out of seed and I don’t think there is too much left in the drill to vacuum out. But that’s for another day.