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When a story on “The Great White Combine” strikes too close to home

Keep away from the windows!” my husband yelled. “The glass could break.”

“Maybe we should all run into the bathroom,” our six-year old said, jumping up and down with excitement. “There’s no windows in there.”

Good suggestions. But I was too busy taking pictures.

The storm

Our July 13 hailstorm lasted for about 10 minutes. We’ve described the hailstones as “as big as tennis balls.” (I heard one reporter say they were “the size of grapefruit,” but I have to admit I didn’t see that.)

It was a scary 10 minutes. Before it stopped, I was starting to wonder if we were in one of those climate change thriller movies, where a handsome scientist and his girlfriend scramble to save the world.

We weren’t the only ones worried. Many of our neighbours heard the “whoosh” of a tornado, and rushed down to their basements. (I can’t imagine how they took any decent photos from there.) We didn’t hear that at our place — too busy shouting about windows, I guess.

By the time the storm ended, we weren’t sure we even wanted to go outside for a better look.

Once we did, we wished we hadn’t.

We lost about 80 per cent of our crop during that 10-minute storm.

Several of our fields look like someone went over them with a lawn mower. The rest just look kind of sad.

The perspective

The week before the storm, Brad had been running flat out, trying to get everything sprayed at the right time. We’d worried that spraying one canola field a day late might have lost us some yield.

Now, we wish he’d just taken a week or two off and gone to the lake, and saved us the cost of the chemicals.

Instead of rushing around with the sprayer, now Brad’s wandering the yard, making lists of things to add to our insurance claim: a handful of broken windows, new shingles for the roof of the house and dents on the roofs of a couple of sheds. Now, instead of waiting for just the right weather conditions to apply fungicide, we’re waiting for a crop insurance adjuster to come out and write off most of our fields so we can heavy harrow them.

Two years ago, we thought things couldn’t get worse. Spring run-off and heavy rains flooded our land. Brad managed to seed 4.8 acres (no, not a typo) before he got stuck on a wet hilltop and gave it up. We didn’t harvest at all in 2011.

This year, we have a couple of fields left unscathed, and some that may bounce back to a just slightly below-average yield by the end of the season. And yet, this hailstorm seems even harder to live with than the Great Flood of 2011.

There are a few reasons for this.

  •  We had a pretty good crop coming. On the morning of July 13, we went out to take photos of the canola. We tried to guess when it would be ready to swath, so we could arrange to have my uncle from Ontario come out and give us a hand. When you don’t seed anything, you don’t have time to get your hopes up.
  •  Because our crop looked pretty good this year, we’d invested in it. The upside to not seeding at all is that you have minimal input expenses.
  •  The 2011 flood left most of the farmers in our area in exactly the same boat (huddling in groups on the sidelines of the kids’ soccer practices, commiserating with each other.) But hail is random. Some of our neighbours didn’t even get any rain. Others had more damage than we did.
  •  In 2011, we had weeks and weeks to adjust to the fact that there wasn’t going to be a crop. This year, everything changed in 10 minutes.

The future

Brad and I were married in 2002. This is my 11th year on the farm. We’ve had The Year of the Early Frost (when, not only did we lose a lot of crop, we had to live with the smell of frozen coriander hanging in the air around the yard for weeks). Then there was the Great Flood of 2011. And now the Hailstorm of 2013.

This seems like the kind of trouble I could have avoided if I’d just married a nice accountant.

But we’re not ready to call the Ritchie Brothers just yet. Anyone who reads Grainews knows that, in the long run, the good years are bound to outweigh the bad. The chance to live a life where every day can bring something completely unexpected (sometimes great, sometimes not) is well worth the risk that comes as part of the package.




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