2018 Harvest Rewind: The good, the bad, and the ugly

As 2018 ends, many want to forget about the tough harvest this past year. Everything from drought and high DON levels, to frost in August and snow in September — it all played a major factor of the stress of farming and hampered this year’s crop quality and tonnage. The wonky harvest caused a lot of head scratching as to what path producers will take for the 2019 season, which is right around the corner.

For Amy VanderHeide over in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, it’s been a year of bad weather but a surprise yield for one crop. She farms wheat, soybeans, a little bit of barley, and grassland for hay and silage — she says the weather was the huge factor. They were lucky to get by, but others with corn and Christmas trees really suffered, she says.

“Frost damage didn’t really affect our harvest that way, but just trying to get it off with the mix of dealing with the rain and cold just seemed like it took forever,” she says. On the bright side, VanderHeide says they had their best soybean yield ever for the 2018 harvest adding that they’ve only had the crop in rotation for the last seven or eight years.

“I don’t know if it’s just the combination of better varieties for our soil, because our soil is typically clay like, so it holds moisture which beans don’t necessarily like,” she says. “Whether it’s just some of our own management or if the weather did play a factor and helped in some way, I’m not sure, it’s just something that really shocked us.”

On average, the VanderHeides usually average about  1.25 tonnes per acre for soybeans, but for this year they averaged 1.7 tonnes per acre.

Jumping over to Ontario, Matt Beischlag, who farms just south of Hamilton near Hagersville, agrees with VanderHeide that the weather played one of the biggest factors into this year’s crop. Beischlag grows soybeans, wheat, barley, and corn, and  says it was tough to get more than two days in a row to get into the combine which really sets a guy back.

A downfall for him was trying out strip-till again. Although only on a small plot, he says it was a complete crop failure due to bugs; however, he added he hasn’t lost all hope with the practice and plans to try it again next year with a few modifications. On the other hand, Beischlag had an unreal year for wheat with above average yields.

“This was our best year ever for wheat and soybeans actually, in one farm we actually out-produced our farm average by 22 bu/ac.”

Going further west to Portage La Prairie, Man., William Pallister says his navy bean crop was the ugly part of this year’s harvest with — as I’m sure you can guess the trend already — weather being the biggest drag on the crop.

“We swathed them earlier on, and in that late September, early October weather that was really wet, some of those beans ended up basically being non-marketable afterwards, so we combined them just to see what the quality would be and we ended up having to dump them on the ground, so it was a total waste,” says Pallister.

One thing that was all too common for many farmers in Saskatchewan this year was the use of a grain dryer. Located near Dodsland, Sask., Jeff Bennett farms everything from malt barley, to canola and lentils, and a little bit of wheat.

“Wheat was the last crop we took off, so we were waiting for it to be dry and it never really got dry, so then it became a matter of getting it off in a manner that would stay in a grain bag, so it was just a lot of waiting in the end,” Bennett says.

Overall, though, he says there’s a lot to be thankful for even with the stress of thinking it could “be a repeat of what happened in 2016” explaining that they were combing the previous year’s crop, while seeding.

“It was a good year, it was a stressful year, but looking back it was a good year and I can say that now with about 74 new white hairs,” he added with a chuckle in his voice.

Lastly, in Alberta, the signs of drought were evident early on and especially in the southern region. “It was our third ugly harvest in a row … we didn’t get any rain again,” says Kevin Serfas who grows barley, canola, and a bit of corn for silage in the Lethbridge area.

Serfas says they were close to finishing harvest when the snow hit and brought them to a halt. As far as next year goes, he says he’ll be planting less canola due to the lack of moisture in the ground and because clubroot has started to pop up in the area.

Speaking of canola, Justin Bell who farms near Rosebud, Alta. says canola yields were “extremely disappointing” this past year and although the protein levels were high in wheat, it still was a bit of a mixed bag.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate with not having any issues with green counts in canola. I’ve heard horror stories of guys where the green just wouldn’t come out, so we might have poor yields, but we’re not dealing with green canola,” Bell says.

The part for this year’s harvest was they finished without anything left in the ground, and going forward with confidence, Bell says he won’t be changing too much for next year’s seeding plans.

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