Harvest generally brings to mind cool autumn days, hay bales and pumpkins. When in reality, harvest can begin for us as early as July, just as it has this year. And while we’re not harvesting pumpkins just yet, my farm manager, Seth, my son, Adam, and our intern, Patrick have been out on the combines and in the trucks for nearly two weeks harvesting our winter wheat, peas, spelt and barley.
Similar to planting, harvest can be both time sensitive and time consuming. Here on the farm when a crop is ready to harvest, we try to do so as soon as we’re able. There are a number of reasons for this. For instance, I don’t know about you but when I see a garden full of fresh veggies ready to eat, I want to eat them. Deer, antelope and other animals feel the same way about our fields and won’t hesitate to help themselves. Weather, however, is the biggest reason to harvest as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sudden heavy rain storms, especially with hail and heavy winds, destroy 100% of a crop in minutes like the hail and 100 mph winds did near Havre, Montana on the 4th of July. Another problem can occur after several days of drizzle. If the grain is wet continuously for 5 days or more it can begin to sprout while still in the head and can reduce the whole crop to feed grade which is worth a fraction of the value of good quality grain.
But not everything is harvested at once. Winter wheat is the first grain crop to be harvested. This year our winter wheat was half hard red winter wheat and spelt. Between the two we harvested about 330 acres. To give you an idea of time consumption, when conditions are perfect (that might have happened once) we can cut about 10 acres an hour. This year we were at 6-7 acres per hour with the hail damaged crops. Due to the hail storm earlier this summer and drought this year, our peas were almost a complete loss and we lost about a third to half of our potential winter wheat. Our spelt, however, escaped most of the hail, which usually comes in narrow strips and so did a little better. But there’s more to harvest than just running the combine.
Each combine can only hold so much grain before it needs to be emptied. Combines are excellent for field work but slow on the road. So we empty the combines into trucks. Each farm truck can hold about two full combine loads of grain which is about 9 tons. Once full, the truck is driven to a steel bin which protects the grain from precipitation, birds and rodents. We empty the truck using an auger and take a sample of each load which is sent off for quality testing such as test weight and protein.
The grain is harvested at about 12% moisture but there are always a few green weeds which come in with the grain which can product pockets of excess moisture. We’re storing food and moisture is never a good thing, especially when storing for long periods of time because these wet areas will cause the grain to mold and allow bugs to begin to develop. This is why at the base of each bin are fans to blow up through the grain. The fans are left on for two or three days and help dry the remaining moisture from the harvest. In this way we also further reduce the moisture in the grain to about 10% which is too low to support mold or insects.
Once we finish harvesting the barley, our Kamut® grain is next as it is nearly all ripe now. And our last crop, safflower, will not be ready to cut until September. I continue to be hopeful for fair weather and a good harvest going forward but we still have a long way to go before we’re finished.