Hi folks, back in December the editor asked me for a Manitoba harvest update – he said my fans were asking for me ... I asked: “What, both of them?”.

But my computer had expired. I now have a new one which means it and me are just getting to know one another, not a bit like a honeymoon, although it does tell me when I’m wrong.

Although this update is a bit late, it’s still up to date as the harvest came to a standstill near the end of November when the snow got too deep.

We’ve only five or six acres of flax still to combine and 225 acres of flax straw still to bale (it’s sold for fibre processing), plus we also have around 60 acres of soyabeans to combine but had to give up on that too.

The soya plant can be 30 to 40 inches tall but the pods grow right down to almost ground level and the snow was around 12 inches deep and combines can’t handle snow! The guys combining corn/maize kept going for a few weeks as the cobs are generally halfway up the stalk, but it was coming off pretty tough at 30-40% moisture.

There are an estimated 4m unharvested acres across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, add to that the Northern Plains of the States, and it will be the second year in succession that some Saskatchewan farmers will have canola, wheat, oats and barley to harvest in the spring. These are still still out there under a two-feet blanket of snow and will have to have something with it before they can get seeding.

We have had some really cold weather, at one time minus 40°C with wind chill, just now it’s hovering between +2° and minus 20°.

When you move to Canada you are told never to leave home in the winter with less than half a tank of fuel. Always have some extra warm clothes in the car and don’t lick door handles!

It pays to keep your eye on the ball, with most of our 1400 acres of wheat coming off tough this year, we have run quite a bit through the drier (fired by propane on which our government is charging a carbon tax!) and a lot is on aeration, which doesn’t work so well when there was the high humidity we had last fall. And, when the temperature gets down to minus 20 or 30°C it tends to freeze dry.

We also still have some bins with no air. It is important to keep an eye on your bins, some of our newer ones have sensors in them but the older majority have none, so if you have a bin that the snow melts off quickly, or you see the pigeons perched on one heating their feet you know that you have a problem.

It’s a good idea to move your grain around and test it, which is what Donald has been busy doing. Lots of our wheat is still above 15% and it needs to be 14.5% or less for the elevator to accept it.

Flax is maybe the worst to dry, it’s highly flammable, so we don’t like using the propane on it and it’s so dense that air takes a while to make any difference. When we were combining it in November, it was testing up to 17% moisture, but flax needs to be 10% moisture or under.

It’s now down to 13% or 14%. Our main customer will accept the crop but deduct each per cent of moisture over 10% as dockage (ie 3% or 4%) which would drop our price per tonne from £290 to £280, which is acceptable to us.

I’m afraid I don’t follow the cattle market as closely as the grain market, since we tend to stick to the calendar being kind of tied to the breeding cycle, ie calf in the spring and sell during the winter, either before new year or after, as a roll-over depending on gross annual sales and tax avoidance.

The market has been fluctuating, following whichever way the wind is blowing – be it coronovirus, China trade wars, carbon emissions, fake meats or vegan rants (Solar Power says that vegan is an old Indian name for ‘Poor Hunter’).

The pundits here are saying that between the coronovirus and African swine fever, there has been a huge drop (50%) in the Chinese swine herds which should cause a rise in demand for animal proteins. We haven’t sold any of last spring calves yet, but will need to make some room soon in the corrals before we start calving again in March.

At the moment 200kg calves are worth around £3.32 per kg, 400kg beasts are £2.23 per kg. Fat steers are £1.80 per kg live, which on looking at The SF market reports seems similar to your prices. But remember, there are no subsidies here.

These prices indicate that a farmer with 100 cows, with an average calf mortality rate of 4% and retaining 15 heifers for replacements, would have 81 calves to sell. At 10 months old and weighing 6-7 cwt they would be worth $110,000, or £64,000 pounds.

The sale of some cull cows and bulls would add to that – a fit cull bull is worth around £1.25 per kg, or £1125 for a 1000kg animal, a replacement bull would cost £2600-3200. Fit cull cows are making £640-700 per head and bred spring calving cows are around £1050-1150 sterling.

Most beef herds are low maintenance operations and on many of the farms under 200 cows the farmer and/or his wife work off the farm as well.

Our costings for our cows over the last year have been: purchased feed £1950 (mostly dog food!); vet £550 (mostly for semen testing the bulls).

For grazing corn/maize, crop inputs for seed, fert and chem were £95 per acre on 80 acres, plus silage chopping, £2865 to chop 40 acres, then we graze the rest till end of February. I haven’t included hay or straw.

Their grazing land is normally poorer land not suited for cropping and receives no fertiliser. When we think that an arable field is needing a rest, we sow it down to Alfalfa for three to five years, which helps to build up the soil fertility.

By that time the pocket gophers have the field covered in molehills, making it a rough ride for mower, baler and driver. We run around 140 cows and it brings in extra revenue, but most of the equipment (tractor, mower and baler) is financed by the grain side.

Jean and I were over for a family visit in Nov/Dec and I managed to attend AgriScot courtesy of the ‘Mauchline bus’. What a show.

The atmosphere was positive, even although some had letters that week telling them milk prices were down. I really enjoyed seeing all your weel kent faces and the craic. I reckoned I spoke to 70 or 80 folk that day, some that I hadn’t seen for years.

I like to finish with a wee story. A policeman in Glasgow was doing his rounds after midnight on a Saturday when everyone is going home thinking ‘Glasgow belongs tae me’. Outside a pub he came across a man crawling about on the pavement.

He asked him what was wrong. The man said: “Oh I got in a fight an’ the b.....d bit off my ear. I’m lookin’ for it.”

The bobbie said: “That’s serious assault, would you know him again?”

“Oh aye,” he replied, “I’ve got his nose in ma pocket.”