Toban Dyck: The first worst year on the farm

For a new farmer, the un-finished 2019 harvest is frustrating and disappointing

Many crops on the Prairies were waiting to be harvested at an unknown date due to unrelenting harvest weather, such as these soybeans seen here in Manitoba at the end of November.

It’s Oct. 31, nearly 8 p.m. So far, no trick-or-treaters. We rarely get those on the farm. It’s disappointing. But, for perspective, it’s not nearly as disappointing as having crop still standing on the field. Which, you guessed it, we do.

It’s a first for this farm, according to my parents. Never, in their memory, has this farm been unable to harvest a crop in the same calendar year in which it was grown. While the jury is still out on whether we’ll be able to get to our remaining soybeans, the prospect is not looking positive.

Here we sit. It’s nearly November. Fall tillage has not been done and neither has any fertilization for next year’s crop. We’re not alone. Only in the past few days have conditions been suitable for machines to reenter the fields they were forced off of following Manitoba’s early October snowstorm.

For some farmers, this year’s harvest effort is engaging the whole village. Potato growers are getting their machines towed through the mud in order to salvage what they can and grain farms larger than ours are going to toe-to-toe with the mud, which has yielded some incredible images of stuck combines and serpentine tire tracks.

Historically, this a time for reflection and deep sighs. Not this year. The 2019 growing season remains uncapped. It has been truly bizarre. At work, in the commodity group world, the meeting season traditionally starts to ramp up now. That is not the case, either. The farmers who would usually attend these meetings are now on the field, optimistic and energized over how the recent frost is allowing them to drive on wet ground.

The year has been unmerciful and shrouded in gloom. Elections are always taxing and they tease out the worst among us. Canada’s trade slump with China has been hard for farmers to watch. I’m sure if all of us could have, we would have left before the first period was over, but we have to see how this one plays out. We really need a win on trade and hopefully we have the right team to see that through.

Increased input costs and more tax are not helping to lift the gloom.

The first time

Firsts are difficult. I don’t have context for any of this. I don’t have enough years under my belt to hold this growing season up against other similarly anomalous ones and say, “Oh well. Things will come around. They did last time.”

In fact, few do.

I have never harvested a crop while fearing that at any moment, the combine’s tires could sink. And I’ve never dealt with crop insurance over crop that may be out in the elements all winter.

This year is testing my mettle, as it’s doing to farmers across the province and across the prairies.

If anything has the power to displace negativity it’s the eureka moments that come from us figuring things out when times are tough, when times are unfamiliar and when they are desperate. We make it work.

Fall plans on my farm are usually laid out by my parents, and they are clear and logical. This is done in concert with my wife and I, though our participation is only nominal, as we rely heavily on their experience. This year, though, there is no plan. We are going off-book.

I am hearing from friends and through grapevines that with the right amount of frost in the ground, we may be able to harvest our remaining 90-acre patch of soybeans.

Do I have it in me to turn on the combine in early November and drive onto a field that would have swallowed an entire grain truck one week ago while my parents are away? Time will tell. If I do, rest assured I will write about it, successful or not.

We’ll tackle these firsts and hopefully look back on 2019 for what it taught us. I’ll be able to say, “Oh. That’s nothing. I remember 2019. That was quite a year, but things turned around. They always do.”

About the author


Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]



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