WE WERE in the middle of seeding times the last time I wrote – now we are on the home stretch of harvest, and a wee shower last night gave me time to update you on what’s happening on our side of the pond.

We have been in Canada for almost 22 years and we’ve yet to see a 'normal' year. The growing season saw colder weather in May and early June than we had in April and while the more traditional crops of wheat, barley, oats and canola (oilseed rape) coped with it fairly well and caught up when the heat eventually came and we got some plus 30°s, the soya beans just didn’t catch up.

I know you have had a rotten summer and remembering dairy farming back in Scotland in 1985, can sympathise with you. But we have had our driest summer ever, after the snow had disappeared at the end of April our first rain of the year came in the second half of June and totalled 2.2 inches, with temperatures going from 6°c up to 26°c.

July was hot, some days in the 30°s with thunder showers, including hail, but only 1.8 inches of moisture. In early August, an additional 1.4inches made a total rainfall for the growing season of only 5.4 inches – we usually average around 10 to 12 inches.

Our crops were actually saved by the rain we had last October and November, retained in our heavy clay subsoil. Because we had no rain in the spring until mid-June, the crop's roots followed the subsoil moisture down instead of being shallow rooted.

Considering the lack of rainfall, yields were surprisingly good. Most of the cereals, canola and peas were well above average, and the soyabeans which are just coming off are slightly down.

Prices are, in general, similar or slightly ahead of normal. We started harvest on August 29 and by September 15 had finished 1400 acres of spring wheat and had most of our canola in the bins without a drop of rain.

When it started raining on September 15, we didn’t complain as the big part of the harvest was done and some of the rest of the crops were barely ready. Also, everything was very dry and in need of some rain, so the 4.7 inches we got in the two weeks after that should help replenish the subsoil moisture for next year.

It also allowed the pastures to turn green again and we are now in the midsts of an Indian summer. But, the weather here can change overnight, going from 30°C down to zero in a day and we have had four or five frosty mornings, down as low as minus 4°c and the corn/maize changed colour in 24 hours.

We still have 350 acres of soya and 300 of flax to do, 40 acres of our corn was chopped and ensiled on October 7, leaving 35 acres for our cows to graze on until March.

Our corn will look pretty dry to you, but if we ensile it any greener when the temperature drops down to minus 20-30°C, the moisture in it would freeze the silage in the pit into big lumps.

The hot dry summer certainly helped us make some of the best alfalfa hay ever. We still had a lot left over from last year, so have sold most of our first cut and some second cut.

The hot weather in July also caused some thunder storms and hail the size of golf balls, so the crop insurance inspectors have been busy. We also had some tornados, or plough winds and though we didn’t have much damage ourselves, some neighbours weren’t so lucky, having trees uprooted and grain bins blown over. One 150-ton capacity hopper bin took off, rolling across the main road and into the middle of a 160-acre field just south of us.

The high humidity which followed increased the chance of disease in crops which were at their most vulnerable stage. We have crop dividers on the sprayer wheels which do a good job on most crops but not canola/rape, which is too tangled so we hired an airplane to spray it.

Our marketing strategy, as explained in my last article is controlled by the fact that the global market is a fickle place. This year was no exception – having to contend with weather is bad enough, but volatile politics and investment fund managers also affect prices.

As I had said in May, with us switching our cereals all to spring wheat this year we were feeling particularly vulnerable, so had started locking in contracts whenever we saw the futures for harvest time higher than last year’s spot prices.

We then locked more in as prices improved, but unfortunately we (along with a lot of others) hadn’t anticipated where or when the high would be.

So bearing in mind that the spot price at harvest time 2016 was under $220, or £126 per tonne, in November the futures for next September hit $228 and we locked some in

Then, in February it was $235, March $239, and in June $257 and we were locking in 100 tonnes or more on every rally, so when in July/August a lot of weather scares in the US plus poor yield predictions from other grain exporting countries, led the markets into one of the biggest rallies ever and the price shot up to eventually peak at $330, we couldn’t price much more as the crop was still in the field and we had contracts for 50% of an average crop.

We obviously have missed out on the big rally, as wheat is now back down to $226, but we are a bit ahead of that. In fact, all our forward priced crops for harvest delivery are above the current market price.

We have already hauled out 600 tonnes of wheat and 100 tonnes of canola at above current prices, and our 250 tonnes of soyabeans are supposed to go to Cargill straight off the combine.

During the wet spell, I was also locking in prices on next year’s fertiliser and was pleasantly surprised as the cost of both nitrogen and phosphate are down $25 per tonne from last year on forward purchase of 200 tonnes.

The deal is for 46-0-0 nitrogen urea at $385, or £220 per tonne and 11-52-0 phosphate $585, or £334 if paid by end of October, and we take delivery through the winter once we have some hopper bins empty.

We will also be buying all our canola, corn, soybean seed and glyphosate before year end, so the money keeps moving around.

While on the subject of harvest, despite all the modern improvements of combine harvesters, sat- nav, and auto-steer etc, one of the most fundamental things hasn’t changed, and that is the need to feed the harvester drivers and also calm us down when necessary.

I’ll let Jean give you her thoughts on that – “Jean’s kitchen, open all hours!!

"Life at harvest time can be hectic and stressful for women too. At the moment I am feeding David, our nephew James and our son Donald, as his wife, Devon, is out in Vancouver at university taking a PhD in teaching, so making meals can be a chore.

"Most days they have their mid-day meal in the house – it can be anywhere between 11.45 and 12.30, and while it is still light nights I take them supper in the field. But now, with fewer daylight hours, they don’t stop to eat but work on until the dampness comes down and then come in for supper at nine, 10 or later.

"Trying to think up what to make can be a problem, especially if anyone is picky. Then, when they are changing fields – which can be five or six miles apart – I do a taxi service moving vehicles, so life can get busy here in Manitoba, but at least most of the time we get better weather."


An update on my old Sioux pal, Solar Power, who I play poker with most Thursday nights in the Legion club.

The other day, his grandson was walking home from school down in the Sioux Valley reserve and as wee boys do they were bragging about their dads.

One of his pals said that his pa could blow smoke rings out his mouth; the second wee boy said his dad could blow them down his nose; Solar power’s wee grandson, not to be outdone, stammered: “My grampa can blow smoke rings out his butt.”

The other two laughed disbelievingly and said: “Have you seen him doing it?” The wee fellow answered: “No, but I’ve seen the nicotine stains on his drawers.”