County farmers are raring to go this week as Alberta gets ready for the start of harvest season.
They traditionally start their harvest during the first week of September, and this year looks to be no exception.
Potato and grain farmer Wayne Groot says he's seen some combines in the pea fields already, and notes that some farmers have started to swathe their canola.
“By the end of the week, you'll probably see some combines going if the weather co-operates.”
Down on the Mulligan farm between Bon Accord and Morinville, Rhonda Mulligan says she and her crew have been sweeping out their bins, checking their sprayers and prepping the motor-home for in-field lunch delivery in preparation for harvest day.
“It's an exciting time of year for us,” she says and everyone's anxious to get started.
“This part is kind of like payday.”
Farmers generally judge the time to harvest based on the condition of a crop, Groot says. Once the potatoes are big enough and the kernel heads firm enough, you start swathing. Some farmers will spray their crops with Roundup beforehand to kill and dry it where it stands for easier collection with a combine.
The latest provincial crop report found that about 73 per cent of crops in the Edmonton region were in good to excellent condition as of Aug. 19, down from 83 per cent the previous week. The drop was blamed on the hot, dry weather we had earlier this month.
Groot says most local farmers seemed to get enough heat and moisture this year for their crops, and reported few issues with bugs or diseases.
“I think we'll all have good crop. Just how good, we don't know yet.”
Farmers would love to have about three weeks of rain-free weather to get everything into the bin, Mulligan says.
“No one wants to have a frost at this point, that's for sure,” she continues, noting that Sept. 8 is a frequent time for frost.
The odds of an early frost (or several hours of minus 2 degree weather) happening before Sept. 10 are about one in 10, says Ralph Wright, soil moisture technician for Alberta Agriculture. That rises to about 50/50 by Sept. 28.
Statistics Canada is predicting a return to average harvests across the nation, with Alberta harvesting about 22 per cent less wheat and 17 per cent less canola than last year's record-setting haul.
Most farmers will be working from sunup to sundown or later for most of September to get the crop in the bin, Groot says.
That can lead to accidents due to tired or careless workers, Mulligan says. She makes sure her workers all have vacations before the start of harvesting and sends everyone home at 11 p.m. Exceptionally tired workers are either sent home or sent to nap in the motor home.
Harvest time is a prime time for fatalities on the farm, reports the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research. Some 14 per cent of all agriculture-related deaths happen in September, making it the most lethal month of the year for farmers. About 68 per cent of those deaths are related to machinery, and about 42 per cent of those involve tractors.
Researchers have also noticed an uptick in pinning and crushing injuries caused by farm equipment in recent years, says centre director Don Voaklander.
“We think it's due to the equipment getting bigger,” he says, as bigger combines mean more speed at the outer edge of the vehicle.
“If you're working around somebody that's working these pieces of equipment, make sure you're well out of the way,” he says.
Rushing causes accidents, says Groot.
“Take your time and try to enjoy it as much as possible.”