Friday, July 12, 2024
Chris Judd

Why?

Every now and again a friend will quietly take me aside and say “I want to ask you a stupid question.” First of all, a teacher of mine once told me “there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers.”
This fall the most-asked question by friends was “why is the corn still not cut? It is all brown.” Sometimes, it was an old farmer that asked me. As most farmers will tell you, “every year is different”. This year there was lots that was different. In the spring the ground was slow drying up so farmers could properly work the soil. Dad always said “it should be dry enough so you get your face dirty with dust” when working the field. Now most tractors have a nice cab so drivers don’t get dusty, but when cropping, there still should be some dust. If you work a field when it’s wet, you are just transplanting the weeds and grass and creating hard soil instead of a nice soft seedbed for the crop to be planted in. Then our area received many days of rain which washed some of that expensive fertilizer down into the soil below the root zone. After the farmer noticed that some corn was too yellow (short of nitrogen which had been washed down too low with the rains), he went in after the corn was a couple feet high and side dressed in more fertilizer. This late side dressing of nitrogen made the corn green again, but also made the crop slower to mature and dry down in the fall.
This year in the Pontiac it was a great year for growing crops (hay, corn, soybeans) and many farms that always planted enough corn silage for even an average year, had corn still standing after the corn silage silos were full. Corn that was planted for silage is usually a higher heat unit variety and hence takes a week longer to dry in the fall for combining than varieties chosen only for combining.
This year a frost cold enough to kill the corn stalk came much later in the year than normal. The corn stalk conveys moisture from the soil up to the corn cob. Until it stops conveying moisture up to the cob, the corn will not dry down and propane gas used to dry the grain corn is very expensive. Combine drivers will also tell you that after a few nights of -6 degrees, corn is much easier to thrash. Those cold nights just arrived last week. Just because the field of corn looks mostly brown doesn’t mean that it’s ready to combine.
There are still a few soybean fields not thrashed yet. Why? Soybeans also thrash easier when dry. A rain will bring back moisture in a field of soybeans and take several days of wind and sunshine to dry down again so combining can resume. Many soybean pods are very close to the ground and any field with only a little snow cannot be harvested while any snow is on the ground, or it will be picked up by the cutter head which rides very tight to the ground. Some farmers have many fields of soybeans that take many dry days to harvest.
“Why don’t farmers plow anymore?” is a common question. The number one reason is because plowing is slower and takes more money to both pay the tractor driver and fill the tank several times with expensive fuel. Different kinds of tillage equipment allows farmers to use minimum till one-pass machines which may require a more powerful tractor but requires less fuel and labour to plant the crop. Another less evident reason not to plow is that there are billions of microscopic animals that live at different depths in the soil. If the soil is turned upside down six or eight inches deep, it disturbs or even kills some of these little animals that can break down stalks and other organic matter as well as mineral particles in the ground into a water-soluble fertilizer for the crop. Minimum till or no-till can allow those microscopic animals to work making free fertilizer, undisturbed by the plow!
“Why do people waste time protesting?” This is a question that everybody asks sometime in their life. The question usually answers itself. Protesting is done to make people aware of a problem that many people don’t know about. Last weekend a few of us went to a “rolling protest” in Montreal to help hundreds more people to understand some of the problems, like government-controlled education, forced language, access to jobs, centralized health care, and warning of more to come. On our way to Montreal, we took a coffee break half way at a coffee shop frequented at breakfast time, many of whose patrons were local farmers. It was a pleasure to listen in to several adjoining tables where chat switched freely back and forth from English to French and back, depending on which better described the subject talked about, from combining to trucking and drying corn, the price of cows and how is your mom. We continued on to a shopping centre parking lot where hundreds of concerned Quebec citizens speaking French, English, and several other languages that I cannot comprehend, gathered before embarking on a 10-kilometre drive through the center of Montreal where thousands of citizens gave us smiles and thumbs-up and other motorists honked in approval. There were dozens of religions and ethnic groups both engaging and watching, all without disgracing or shooting at each other. This is the Canada and Quebec that we want to live in.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations. gladcrest@gmail.com

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