Blogging hasn't been high priority lately, obviously. But this fall has kicked my butt and I hate to write negative posts. I prefer my witty, delightful posts about how picture perfect everything is, or the ones about how I solved some huge problem by the sheer force of my intelligence and charm.
Wait...?? Who's blog is this?? Sorry....I confused myself with someone else.
Reality is I'm a farmer now, and I'll be damned if farmers don't bitch and moan every once in awhile. So here it goes...
This year's corn harvest dogged me for weeks. It went anything but smoothly, and I was grumpy through the whole dang process.
The weather didn't cooperate at all, raining every other day for basically a month or so. Now I know talking about the weather isn't that exciting for most people, but weather is to a farmer what a moody boss is to the low-level worker. You gotta follow their lead, but you never know what they're gonna throw at you, and most of the time you don't like it.
This harvest season, the weather tossed us a nice mix of rain, mist, cold, some more rain and mist, and suprisingly little wind. Which means we were harvesting wet corn off of wet ground on cold, dark, and yes, wet days.
So what's the problem?
Well, wet corn means that we have to pay exhorbitant charges at the local grain elevator to dry the corn down to 15% moisture. 15% moisture is the level at which corn can be shipped and/or stored without risk of sprouting or fermenting. (Although fermented corn doesn't sound so bad...ahem.)
Thanks to the wet fall, our corn didn't dry down in the field like it could have. We were harvesting our corn at about 23% moisture. Shall we do the math?
The elevator charges $0.07/bushel to dry corn one half of one percent. (Yes, you read that right.) So that means $0.07 to dry it to 22.5%, another $0.07 to dry it to 22%, etc. etc. When you add it all up, we paid $1.12/bushel to dry the corn down to 15%.
I understand that they have to recoup their energy costs, but to the tune of $1.12/bu? Youch. When you're making $4-5.00/bu on the corn, that's 25% of your profit right there. Today's corn prices are at $2.95 or so. Take a smooth buck off of that and we're talking a 35-40% loss.
Wet land means that the oh-so-heavy equipment like the combine, grain wagons, tractors and semi trucks are driving around our farmland and compacting the crap out of our soil. Soil compaction is horrible for the health of the crops, prohibiting the flow of nutrients and water and causing all sorts of terrible problems with run-off, weeds, etc. In a no-till system like ours, soil compaction is your number one enemy. We don't have the option to moldboard plow the land to break through the hardpan, as they call it.
We had a semi truck and a tractor get stuck in the mud. That's how bad it was. And there are huge ruts everywhere, which I can't look at without getting agitated.
Wet, unpredictable weather causes one more major problem....you never know when you're going to be able to harvest. For three weeks, I could go nowhere, do nothing, see no-one. I'd have my boss at Atwood take me off the schedule because I thought we'd be working. Then it'd rain. I'd put myself back on the schedule, and Mark would show up to work the combine for a few hours.
Sometimes I'd think, "The ground's way too wet to harvest today", so I'd go to my exercise class or run to the store. Upon return, I'd find that Mark had been working for over an hour, the wagons were all full, and I still had to connect the tractor to the auger, lift the top off the bin, etc. The constant set-up, catch up, take down, set-up again was exceedingly frustrating.
Needless to say, I was swearing like a sailor by the time we got it all finished. But finish we did. Thank God for that.
Yeah, farmers complain a lot. We do. But if your schedule and your success was dictated by and determined by something as unforgiving and unpredictable as the weather, you'd complain too.
We're a sorry lot, we farmers. You'll just have to forgive and excuse us when you can. And when you can't?
Deal with it.