The 2013 crop was “next year” for the majority of Canadian Prairie farmers. Almost all farmers reported pleasant surprises when the combines started to roll.
Saskatchewan alone produced 38.8 million tonnes of products that go through a grain auger — exceeding the government target for 2020 of 36.6 million tonnes. Bureaucrats like to pretend they can see the future and make targets to feed the hungry hordes they think will buy our crops. I have little faith in any such star gazing. All those predictions fail to recognize Rule 1 of Farming: Mother Nature is in charge.
Our 2013 record harvest with perfect weather makes for many stories about the bushels that could be rubbed out in a short time. Watching the combines roll, the grain cart chase them around the field and the semis and B trains haul it to the elevator are sights of great beauty. I thrilled to watch neighbours with three big yellow combines and a grain cart keep several B trains busy hauling directly to an elevator 20 miles away.
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The equipment and technology has seen huge advances in the past century but the “Beauty of the Harvest” is timeless. Long hours, huge stress but in the end satisfaction like none other.
Times gone by
In 1926 at Milden, Sask., my grandfather Jerome Henry and dad Lou Henry said goodbye to the threshing machine and bought a shiny new Massey Harris 15-foot combine with a wagon hitch in place of a hopper. I am sure the excitement was great when that advance came along. A continuous “dump on the fly” — until the wagon was full. Then the full wagon was unhitched and an empty hooked up.
I visited recently with Joe Pender who many will remember as a Master Farmer from Meath Park, Sask., and distributor of Gandy Fertilizer applicators. He showed me a picture of some threshing equipment his father operated near Rosetown, Sask. It’s a 1928, a 20-foot Holt combine, dumping “on the fly” into a one ton truck.
In 1954, at age 14, I took dumps on the fly from a Massey 27 combine with a one ton Fargo truck and thought we were quite advanced.
Joe Pender also showed me a photo of a 1939 combine with a great story. It’s a five-foot Allis Chalmers pto combine pulled by a Farmall M tractor. Joe still has that tractor and combine along with the original invoice and operator’s manual. It only cut one crop. Anyone want a good used combine?
The Allis Chalmers combine had a 15-bushel hopper with a small unloading auger. His dad combined 450 acres of wheat with that combine that year at Meath Park, northeast of Prince Albert, Sask. The “trucker” used a team of horses and two wagons. The wagon held three hoppers so Joe’s dad could fill a wagon while the hired man took the loaded wagon to a bin. He used a grain scoop to put the grain in a bin! Joe was nine at the time and rode along with the hired man and even had a ride on the platform of the combine.
Joe said it was a good crop. Saskatchewan Agriculture stats quote average wheat yield for RM 490 to be 35 bushels/acre in 1939. Even if we use a conservative 30 bushel yield x 450 acres, that’s 13,500 bushels of wheat. That is 900 hoppers of combining and 300 loads of wheat for the hired hand to shovel — imagine the muscles. It was a perfect harvest year. Prince Albert weather records show very little rain in September and October of 1939. At 15 acres per day it would have been 30 days of very hard work.
But the “Beauty of the Harvest” with the five-foot combine only lasted one year. The good crop meant a bigger combine could be purchased.
Times change, machines change but the “Beauty of the Harvest” lives on in the hearts of all real farmers. It will be a sad day when this old scribbler cannot crawl up the ladder and rub out a few bushels.