Safflower is always our last major field crop to be harvested for the season. This is the fifth year since we have been growing hi-oleic safflower oil for our Oil Barn enterprise here on the farm. We also use safflower as a natural pest deterrent around our corn because almost no one, including me, likes to walk through its thistle-like branches. For that reason alone, I’m grateful we can harvest our fields of safflower with machinery rather than by hand and we hope and pray that our combines never stall and plug up during the harvest because cleaning that out by hand would also be miserable.
This year an extra step was required before we could harvest of our safflower. Most fields had so many green weeds that we first had to swath the fields so that the weeds would dry down and would be easily separated from the safflower seeds and blown out of the back of the combine. If there are too many green weeds in the field at harvest time, parts of those weeds will break apart in the combine and those portions which are similar in size to the seeds, will come into the clean grain tank. These green weeds contain a very high level of moisture and if their contribution pushes the total moisture over 16%, we can not safely store the grain because we would be in danger of having the entire bin mold. You may have seen fields where they swath alfalfa, leaving it out in rows or swathes to dry before coming back to bale it. The safflower swathes look similar, except we don’t come back with a baler. We use our combine but instead of our normal header with cuts the grain, we take that off and put on a pick-up header which can pick up the swath from off the ground and feed it into the combine. Expect for the header, the rest of combine is woking the same to separate and clean the safflower seeds just as it does for wheat and other grains.
The seed we grow here is sold to my son-in-law, Andrew, to make organic, high-oleic safflower oil for The Oil Barn which he is running.
Harvesting our safflower fields always puts me in a reflective mood. As the final field harvest of the season, I find myself thinking about the past summer as well as the fast-approaching winter. And even with harvest done, we still have a lot that needs to be done before the first snowfall.