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We swathed our wheat. Would we do it again?

Toban Dyck’s crop went from “the crop that 
could have been” to… well, the crop it was

We swathed our wheat. Because why not. Because there’s nothing like picking up a dry swath with a powerful combine. Because we didn’t want to desiccate. But swathing turned out to be a mistake. We had no idea our wheat would sprout. How could we have? And the worst thing is there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again. It was a mistake, yes, but not one we can learn from. The best we can do is add the thing that happened to the growing list of things that can possibly happen in a growing season, and move on.

Filling the back of the drill fill then driving a couple of miles to fill the front is a lesson one can learn from. Nearly getting the tandem up on two wheels around a tight corner, and torqueing the box in the process was completely avoidable. “Well, you’ll only do that once,” applies. It doesn’t always.

Of the almost infinite combinations of things that can change the course of a growing season, the challenge is to parse out what can be genuinely called a lesson, and what is beyond your control.

You all know this. I get it. You’ve been farming for years, and have the system down. Your season ebbs and flows. Your households are tense when the weather sucks. Your fuses are short when the prices are down. But it’s not clear the lot of you know the difference between a mistake and something that happened, and would have with or without you.

Full disclosure: I’m not playing with real money. Yet. I just work on a farm. And I don’t take any of its stresses home with me. Poor prices don’t affect me. Sprouted wheat is frustrating, but having to market it is not my challenge. I’m consumed by such things as the details of succession planning. My stresses are theoretical.

The genuine lessons: Yes, the tandem incident applies. As does a whole bunch of other major and minor mistakes I have made since moving back to the farm. But I’ve made most of them only once. A tandem truck with a heavy back end and high centre of gravity, courtesy of a drill fill, swinging around a corner is not something I want to experience again.

Things that happen: The warm, humid conditions that allowed our swathed wheat to sprout were clearly beyond our control. We needn’t have swathed. We could have straight-cut it all. But we didn’t.

The distinction I am making between lessons and things that happen may seem elementary,. But try to appreciate that it isn’t either of those things.

The loss of a great crop

grain truck and auger

photo: Toban Dyck

Biting into what looks like an exceptional crop of wheat, getting excited about how much of the engine’s load is being use to thresh it, then getting even more energized at the high number your already conservative yield monitor is displaying, are all high peaks to fall from. There were rumours of mildew and sprouting circulating through the coffee shops. But not our wheat. We were sure of it. It takes a person stronger than most to deal with the poor news well; to deal with the loss of a crop that could have been.

But it’s at that exact moment, that moment when the grain elevator test results come back, when you realize that the biggest lesson in farming is not learning from all your mistakes, but learning how to pull together, take a step back, breathe, and make clear, level-headed decisions amid what at times can seem like absolute uncertainty or devastation. And then live with that decision. Go to bed with that call.

This makes farming one of the more difficult jobs out there, requiring more intellectual acuity than that group of coverall-wearing farmers meeting at Subway every morning would feel comfortable admitting.

It’s like hockey. Players are challenged to make the best decision possible when confronted with an infinite combination of outcomes. The good ones do so well. And the burgeoning ones don’t see all the combinations. They see a shot on net but don’t take it because last time they tried, it didn’t work, not realizing that a goalie saving a good shot is not a mistake on your end, it’s just something that happens. If you see a shot, take it.

Will we swath again? Probably. Is there a lesson to be learned from having done it? Not really. Make the distinction between mistakes and happenings. And make it clear. Don’t languish in the unavoidable. And always fill the front of the drill fill first.

About the author

Columnist

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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