It may be among the more controversial practices around the farm, but spraying pesticides is an essential one. Why is it so essential? Well, as the sprayer heads out to get a head start on the spring weeds, let’s take a look.
Farmers in general are already getting to be a little tired this time year. There is more sunshine, more daylights hours….so that means that every waking hour is spent doing…something. Whether it’s planting, preparing fields or doing one of a million other jobs that need to be done….farmers are in a word…busy. Spring means that we’re out in the fields for longer…and while the hours of sunshine may make the days feel longer – they often actually feel shorter, because there is so much to pack into each and every day on the farm to make it count. On a fruit and vegetable farm like ours…we have tons of things to plant, grow and produce so that the fruits and vegetables we grow do so… before we’re knee deep in white stuff all over again.
Farming brings with it a lot of risks…but for farms like ours where we have fruits and vegetables…it is the risk of frost is what holds us hostage for most of the spring.
Fluctuating temperatures bring with them warm days where plants start growing and thriving, but quite often are accompanied by at least a few cooler nights, where the risk of frost presents the scary reality of damage or death of our beloved plants we pride ourselves on nurturing, protecting and caring for. Strawberries are the biggest risk on our farm…they’re low to the ground, tender and extremely susceptible to frost damage….they’re the ones that keep us up at night…literally.
We spend our springs carefully watching the weather for possible risks of frost…always watching the temperatures to see what Mother Nature has in store for us. If the temperature drops below 5 degrees Celsius we are at a greater risk for frost. If it drops below 3, you’re really getting us nervous. We also watch the dewpoint (the temperature at which dew forms on plants), because the lower the dewpoint…the faster the temperature will drop and the faster frost can form on the plants – damage and injury can sometimes happen before we can even see it, which is why we have to be vigilant. We’re also carefully watching the air temperature outside..but also the temperatures that are on the ground. The temperature in the air can be safe…but down on the ground can be absolutely frigid for our poor young, tender plants and the blossoms they’re producing.
We don’t want clear nights…nights where we have cloud cover we get a better nights sleep because the clouds are acting like a blanket of insulation to protect our sweet plants. When it’s a clear night, the risk of frost rises drastically. If there is a slight breeze…there is a lower risk of inversion (cold air swooping in below the warm air to settle on the plants) so there less likelihood that frost will settle. If there are strong winds and the temperature have dropped low – it can also be damaging because the cold wind becomes frigid for the plants….it can even be more risky when this happens because instead of just a risk of frost…we can see the risk of freezing happening
If we do get cold nights, clear nights and/or still nights…and strawberries are no longer covered by straw and especially when they have some bloom on them….we don’t get much sleep. We watch the weather constantly. Checking the cloud cover. Checking the breeze. Hoping the dew point doesn’t drop too much. We can be up every hour or less on “Frost Watch”. Out in the fields checking on our plants, the ground temperatures and the conditions around the farm from the ground to the sky…watching and waiting…hoping for the best and planning to do whatever we can if the worst happens.
As dew points and temperatures drop, checks become more frequent and then a call is made. Frost is happening, or imminent. We must do whatever we can to protect the plants and the blossoms…to save the plants and their crops from the cold weather; to protect whatever we can, in whatever ways we can.
With that decision made, we throw on another sweater, button up a jacket and head outside in the dark cold night, flashlights in hand. Pumps are started, and water starts whirling. We irrigate all night if we have to…hours on end…until the temperature starts to rise. When the warmth of the water hits the plants, it warms them up just enough that they can’t freeze or be damaged from the frost…but we have to continue to irrigate until it warms up enough that the water hitting the plants won’t cause more damage…so we sit and wait…hoping that we made the call soon enough. Hoping that we didn’t make it too soon. Hoping that the blossoms on the strawberry plants will survive. Checking to make sure frost isn’t settling and rechecking temperatures as the moon moves overhead.
This week is looking a little scary for frost warnings in our neck of the woods. We will be out checking most nights this week because conditions are setting themselves to look favourable for frost….and we have to do whatever we can to protect our crops, our livelihood, and those delicious strawberries that everyone loves so much.
So if you see a fruit and vegetable farmer looking a little tired this week…if they’re looking a little dazed and confused or like they haven’t slept in days…it’s probably because haven’t actually slept much lately. Because not only have they been working long days – but there have been a lot of long nights too. Fruit farmers this time of year could use another cup of coffee…or two. And a nap….or three. Good thing we love what we do though…because there are fields to tend to and crops to plant and there will soon be crops to harvest…nap time has to wait…there’ll be time for a good nights sleep when things are moving a slower pace, there isn`t as much work to be done and the strawberry plants are tucked into bed under a blanket of straw and a layer of fresh snow, safe and sound from the elements and out of harms way once again.
As we head into spring, one of the big jobs for the next few months is going to be to harvest, haul & store the feed for the next year for the cows.
One of my favourite YouTubers is Geoffrey, a dairy farmer in Saskatchewan. He has put together a great video on some of the ways his family harvests forages (like hay, pea & barley silage) that will be fed to their cows.
Now that spring has arrived, farmers are heading to the fields to get their crops planted for the year. While farmers and the general public are often in a rush to get places when on the roads, we must remember to practice safe driving procedures throughout this busy time. Everyone will arrive home safe to their families at the end of the day if the public remains vigilant while driving, and the farmers use proper safety signs and lights to signal their traffic intentions. And remember, only pass farm equipment when it’s safe to do so. Driving behind a slow moving vehicle for 2 miles takes the same amount of time as waiting at 2 stop lights in the city. Be safe and enjoy the warm weather!
This fall, with the wet weather we have had all summer and continuing now, it is making corn harvest slower for many farmers. Since most crops were late this summer due the moisture and lower heat unit accumulation (this means there was less heat and sunlight to help the crops grow and mature), the crops matured later and therefore did not have time to dry down in the field before the cooler weather set in. It is important that corn and other crops are at a certain moisture in order to store without worrying about spoilage. Usually the moisture that farmers aim to have corn at is below 16 percent, this way if it is stored on farm it will not spoil in the bin, and if it is sold to an elevator, they will not have to pay to dry it.
Many farms now have a drying system in place, as it is usually difficult to let the corn dry down to 16 percent in the field without losing yield. This is because as genetics are getting better, farmers choose longer season corn varieties in order to get higher yields. If they were to choose a short season variety that would dry down early in the field, they would be giving up enough yield that the cost of drying is far worth it.
On my farm we are currently harvesting corn at 23-28 percent moisture. This means that we have quite a bit of drying to do! The dryer bin that we have in place, like at most farms, is not able to hold all that we have in the field. This means that we must harvest enough to fill a bin, and then wait for it to dry until we can harvest more. It is this process (and that the yields are so good!) that is slowing many farmers down this year, because while there is usually some drying to do, it normally is a much faster because the corn is not as wet. The drying system that we use is one that is very common on farms. The bin uses a system of stirators which move the corn around, as well as a fan and heating system. Our bin is heated using propane.
This year, with some of the crazy wind storms that we experienced in the summer, there is also quite a bit of corn that has lodged (fallen over). This is another factor that many farmers are having to contend with when harvesting as they cannot drive as fast and in some cases have to combine all one way, meaning lots of extra driving and time taken.
Even with all these challenges that farmers are facing, things are still getting accomplished and harvested, and this means happy farmers.
When you sit down to eat supper at night, how often do you take time to consider where your food comes from? Is it grown locally? Is it produced in another province? Have you considered that part of your food could even be produced by a farmer half way around the world?
Ontario farmers are blessed with having exceptional land that they can use to produce some of the highest quality crops in the world! We are able to produce crops that benefit not only ourselves, but even people on the other side of the globe. Soybeans are a perfect example of a crop that is widely grown in Ontario, which is produced with such a high standard of quality that our soybeans are demanded all around the world.
My family not only is involved in growing these high quality soybeans, but we also play a role in exporting the soybeans overseas to countries like Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they will use the crop to produce soy milk and tofu.
The exporting process on our farm begins when farmers truck their soybeans to a storage facility on our farm called a grain elevator. Here, we buy the crop from the farmers and store the soybeans in large concrete silos until the busy harvest season has ended. After harvest has slowed, we get to work at the grain elevator preparing to begin exporting the crop. Since the soybeans will be used for human consumption, the crop goes through many different machines that clean out impurities in the soybeans and eliminate the risk of other crops like corn or wheat from being exported. Our customers demand very high quality products, so we must make sure the soybeans are perfect!
A grain elevator is a grain storage facility where farmers can store their grain until they wish to sell it.
After the soybeans have completed the rigorous cleaning process, they can either be loaded directly onto a shipping container (we call that shipping in bulk), or the soybeans can be bagged into 25-45 kilogram bags, then loaded into a shipping container. Just like with many products here in Canada, the bulk soybeans will be used by large food processors overseas while the bags of soybeans will be sold at markets and stores for families and small businesses.
The bulk soybeans are loaded into a shipping container using a large conveyor belt which shoots the soys into the container.
The bagging process can be a pretty tiring process, so we decided to get a little help on the farm and invest in a robot to do much of the work. It is quite expensive, but it saves on labour costs and will never call in sick to work!
Check out the video below to see how the robot operates. You can even see my dad working, sewing the bags shut!
After the bags are stacked onto pallets, they are loaded into shipping containers, and then sent on a train to Vancouver before making the long voyage to Asia. Although this business requires a lot of labour and attention to detail, I love it because it I satisfying knowing that the crops my family and I grow are being put toward feeding hungry mouths around the world.
It’s that time of year again – school has started, the days are getting shorter and cooler, the leaves are changing, and the crops are almost ready! This means that it is time for farmers to switch things into high gear. While they have been working hard all year, harvest time is extra busy for everyone. On my farm, harvest is a little less hectic than on others though. Since we only crop 175 acres, as the hens are the main focus of our farm, we do not own our own combine and therefore get our soybeans and corn custom harvested by a neighbour. When our custom operator comes to harvest our soybeans, we must be ready with wagons in order to ensure he always has a place to unload when the combine is full. We want everything to be as efficient as possible in order to get things done fast in case the weather changes and also because the custom operator has many other fields to harvest.
The first crop that will be harvested on our farm is the soybeans – they will likely be ready at the end of this week if the weather stays good. As soybeans mature, they begin to drop their leaves and the pods and seeds dry down. A good way to tell if a field is ready is if the soybeans “pop”, but a more scientific way to tell if the field is ready to harvest is if the soybeans are less than 15% moisture. This year, we did a bit of a trial on my farm where we planted two different varieties of soybeans that are in two different maturity categories to see if it would affect the yield. In soybeans, the maturity or relative maturity (RM) is categorized by numbers, with a lower RM soybean maturing faster than a high RM soybean. In our plot, we planted a 1.0 RM and a 1.5 RM soybean. There has been only a small difference in how mature the soybeans have been over the course of the growing season, but over the past few weeks, the small difference has been very easy to see. When we take off this plot, we will have a weigh wagon that we will use to measure the yield of the two different varieties to see if one is higher. Through my job as an agronomist, we also have a few other similar plots in collaboration with the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association comparing the RM of soybeans, so we can use these results to help determine if using a higher RM will give us higher yields.
After our beans are harvested, it will be a little while before our corn is ready to harvest, and so we will get a bit of a break, but not for long! So as you are around the country side over the next little while and see all sorts of machinery in the fields and on the road as farmers harvest corn silage, and soybeans, and edible beans, and grain corn and more, drive safe and remember that farmers are in just as big a hurry to get things done as you 🙂