View from Manitoba by David Caldwell

It’s been a funny old year so far here in Manitoba and I’m taking the chance while we are having a wet spell in mid-harvest to give you an update on conditions this side of the pond.

A dry spring meant seeding was fairly early and all done by the end of May, with once again some of the folk who seeded their canola/rapeseed too early having to reseed due to late frost and flea beetles.

However, the dry conditions did allow us to seed some low lying ground which we sometimes don’t get, but also had folk worried about the chance of a drought.

Fortunately, some rains in June gave us over fives inches, which got the crop up and going, and also the weeds in time for weed control.

The dry conditions continued and by the end of July we had a total of only eight inches for the year to date. Hay and pasture land was struggling, so much so that a lot of cows came to market, enough to cause a backlog at the slaughter plants of up to three weeks which depressed the prices.

One young farmer I spoke to from further north said that they had only a total of two-inches of rain for the year up to the end of July, his pasture was bare, his hay only went one bale to the acre and the watering holes were going dry, desperate times indeed.

Luckily we were not so bad, with the alfalfa having deep roots we had a decent first cut, though our second cut was way below normal.

The cereal and oilseeds looked good all summer but we were worried that they wouldn’t reach their potential but once again we were amazed at near record yields.

Unfortunately, the rains which we were needing in July came in August/September and we only managed to combine 10 days in September, It has been the worst year for us in 24 Canadian harvests, with almost 90% of our wheat needing either aeriationm or the grain drier.

It also meant that we couldn’t haul from the field to our nearest Cargill elevator, or inland grain terminal which is only 15 minutes away. This puts pressure on our storage capacity and although having increased bin space by over 1500 tonnes since we bought the farm, this year it isn’t enough until we get some of the dried grain away.

We did a deal on a new New Holland CR 9.90 with a 40-foot header, part of the deal was that we were allowed to keep our old N H CX 80.80 till our wheat was all done, but we are now down to one combine with 1300 acres of canola, soyabeans and flax still do.

We had a light covering of snow on October 1, but some areas got five inches, which is enough to put the standing crops down. Any wheat still out has bad sprouting, which makes it fit only for feed at roughly half price.

A lot of Saskatchewan crops are still in the field so all this, of course, is supporting wheat prices – but only if you have decent wheat.

Most of our wheat contracts were based on Grade 2 quality, with a 13% protein which the earlier harvested crop met. Unfortunately, a deluge in the second week of September delayed the combines for a week, enough time for some sprouting to start.

This dropped some of our wheat quality to Grade 3, knocking our price from $245 per tonne to $202 – down roughly £25 and on a two-tonne crop, that comes to around £50, or £125 per ha.

Late autumn means if you get a good afternoon there will be lots of morning dew with late starts. Bring on an Indian summer!

I was playing poker against 'Solar Power' recently in the Legion. I said to him: “When do we get your Indian summer??” He said: “We aint had your Scotsman summer yet.” I replied: “That was last weekend’s 2.5-inches of rain.”

Never mind, October can be good and in Manitoba they say historically there is more harvest done in October than in August. On Friday, our local contractor came in and chopped half of our 90-acre corn/maize for silage leaving the rest in four paddocks for our Angus cows to graze till March.

Jean and I were delighted this summer to have long time friends and old neighbours, William and May Steel, of Stafflar Farm, stay with us for a week in July. It’s always nice when you can say to someone: “Do you remember when?” That’s one of the many things you miss when you emigrate.

With me being a whisky lover and frequent flier (not on the whisky) I have amassed quite a collection if miniature whisky bottles, they were on display on the top of Jean’s kitchen cabinets, But when renovations were on the go, Jean said: “If you’re putting them back up you clean them.”

I had a look at them (more than 100 bottles).I had quite a few duplicates so decided to reduce them and not wanting to throw any away, I poured the extra ones into the crystal decanter which Stranraer Show had presented us with when we were emigrating.

I noticed that some of the miniatures weren’t quite full and knowing Jean’s aversion to whisky and also that the seal was unbroken decided that the 'Angels' had been at it again. That left only 75 bottles to clean, and a very full decanter – I should maybe just taste this amber nectar, nectar? Nuclear more like!

I now have a lot more respect for Johnnie Walker’s blenders. Which reminds me of another story, the late Bob Lammie and the late Fraser Evans, both of SMMB and NFU fame, had been in France back in the 1970s or so, probably to do with the 'Entente cordiale' and EU and they were discussing their trip. Bob was lamenting a hangover, which he attributed to drinking 'Blue something' – Fraser suggested that it would have been the popular wine of the time, 'Blue Nun'. Bob said: “Naw, blew yer bloody heid aff.”

Jean and I are hoping to be back in Scotland in November to visit family and friends, so I’m hoping to get to AgriScot – hopefully see some of you there?