Safflower is always our last major field crop to be harvested for the season. This is the fifth year we’ve been growing organic, high-oleic safflower seed for The Oil Barn® enterprise here on the farm. We also use safflower as a natural pest deterrent around our corn because almost nothing, including me, likes to walk through its thistle-like branches. For that reason alone, I’m grateful we can harvest our safflower fields with machinery rather than by hand. And you can bet, we pray our combines don’t stall and plug up during safflower harvest because cleaning that out by hand is pretty miserable.
Prickly parts aside, usually a safflower harvest isn’t all that different from a grain harvest. But this year an extra step was required. Most of our safflower fields had so many green weeds that we had to swath the fields first so the weeds would dry out. Too many green weeds can break apart in the combine and end up in the clean seed tank with the safflower. Green weeds also contain a very high level of moisture which can cause an entire bin to mold. Not to mention, green weeds are notorious for plugging up combines generally intended for a dry harvest, which brings us back to that miserable prickly problem.
You may have seen fields where they swath alfalfa, leaving it out in rows on the field to dry before coming back to bale it. Safflower swaths look similar, except we don’t come back with a baler. We use our combine with a pick-up header (instead of the normal cutting header) which looks and acts like a wide shovel, scooping up the rows of cut safflower from the ground and feeding it into the combine. Aside from the change in headers, the combine works as usual, separating and cleaning the safflower seed as it goes.
The organic safflower seed we grow here is sold to my son-in-law, Andrew, to make organic high-oleic safflower oil for The Oil Barn®.
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, there’s still a lot to be done before the first snowfall.