By Dale Cory
The dust has yet to settle. And that’s not good news for the farming community.
It’s a Sunday afternoon in the middle of the Thanksgiving long weekend, and a drive along any road in central Alberta quickly produces the sight of a combine travelling across a field, grain dust spewing out the back of a machine worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One year ago, most, if not all farmers had their wheat, oats, barley and canola in the bins, and bales hauled in. They were allowed to enjoy a true Thanksgiving, considering the most important work of the season – the part that allows for survival on the farm — had been completed. Grain in the bins means money in the bank. Well, eventually.
But this is the fall of 2010, during which unwanted and untimely rain, along with an early frost, have set back by weeks the task of getting crops off the field. And what’s been harvested so far may not be top quality seed, which brings the price down, and the task of paying for those expensive combines even tougher.
A few miles north of Ponoka lies the Winter farm, where, during the Thanksgiving weekend, Dale was making the final trip up and down the field of swathing his barley crop, while, across the quarter-section, his 86-year-old father, Ed, could be found combining barley that had already been on the ground for a sufficient time to dry.
“We’ve got about 260 acres left out of about 850 acres we seeded. This is the last field of barley, then we’ve got a field of canola to finish,” says Dale Winter, showing obvious relief because he could put the swather away for another season.
“This barley field is probably doing 100 bushels per acre, which is pretty good. But the quality isn’t that good. This is supposed to be malt barley, but I don’t think it’s going to make it. The yield just isn’t there. That frost we had when it fell to minus 10 really hurt. I know a lot of wheat is coming off as feed wheat as well.”
As for his canola, Winter has combined about 260 acres so far. It was running at around 50 bushels an acre. Unfortunately, some of his Round-up canola has a high green count.
“And it isn’t just us,” he says. “A lot of guys are having trouble with green count.”
Immature canola seed naturally contains a high level of chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize, or turn the sun’s energy into biomass. Fully and properly matured canola has no chlorophyll.
All that means the canola has not matured properly, knocking it down a few grades, which lowers the yield, and the price the farmer will receive.
Everyone knows Alberta failed to experience much of a summer. Winter blames the lack of sunshine this year for poor quality yields.
“You’ve got to have heat to go along with the moisture. We had about 22 inches of rain. You go down by Joffre down there and my cousin had 28 inches of rain.
His yield is just the pits. He told me, ‘If you complain about your yields, I’m going to come and kick your butt.’” says Winter with a laugh. “Yet, you go north of the city, up by Smokey Lake and West Lake, and they have beautiful crops there.” So, how many days will it take the Winters to finish combining?
“We should be done by the end of the week of nothing breaks down,” says Dale, emphasizing, “If nothing breaks down.”