From Where I Sit – Do the Numbers Add Up?

September on the farm is not corn roasts and crunchy leaves. It’s not the last hurrah of summer, complete with a Labour Day weekend getaway. It’s not fairs or festivals.

Any farmers worth their salt don’t need a calendar; they know in their bones what time of year it is. There is uneasiness, a tingling. That feeling of Okay already, let’s get on with it that precedes the start of harvest. And the not-so-silent prayer that the aging machinery hangs in another year and the weather co-operates. Simply put, that means no fog or heavy dews, just sweet sunshine and a good drying wind.

Every farmer knows Mother Nature can’t be rushed, despite our best efforts. But we try. Big farmers with lots of seeded acres use desiccation. Spraying an almost ripe crop with Roundup effectively kills the grain and hastens the ripening by evening out the greener bits. Desiccation is done with a high clearance sprayer, a big-tired self-propelled machine with folding spray booms That’s worth between $130,000 and $275,000. That extra field operation costs about $5 per acre for the chemical?not counting the cost of borrowing or the fuel or manpower needed to run the machine.

Even small guys like us, with only 615 acres to harvest, rely on grain dryers or aeration bins to speed up the process. Every type of grain has a moisture level assigned to it. Farmers live and die based on those numbers. And they are a moving target; a moisture reading at 1 pm won’t be the same at 6 pm or at 10:30 that same night. Wheat is dry at 14.5; canola at 10; barley at 14.8. More than that is ?tough? grain. More yet is ?damp.?

If you choose to take off grain that isn’t dry, you had better have a backup plan. If grain is tough, then running large fans (in specially equipped aeration bins) with or without propane heat can effectively continue the drying process and save the day. But It’s not cheap or quiet. How many days it takes to dry a couple thousand bushels of grain this way is dependent on the ambient air temperature and how humid it is. Alternatively, sometimes grain companies will allow farmers to haul in tough grain and ?mix it out? with thousands of bushels of dry grain.

If grain is damp, the entire bin is at risk. Through a process I don’t understand, moist grain creates its own heat. Heated grain stinks to high heaven and cakes together in ashy grey clumps. If a grain buyer even agrees to take it, the price will be drastically cut.

So, on September 5 with not an acre yet cut, I’m getting a little crazy. we’re adding an extra 13,850 bushel capacity this year thanks to the purchase of four more bins and a hopper modification to an old one. Total cost so far is $28,340 and counting. To make this work we need the numbers to add up: moisture levels, temperature, and grain price, from where I sit.