Harvest: A Series about the Process and History of Farming in Franklin and Southampton
Rain all weekend has been the forecast for several days now. Fall harvest was just moving into full swing and now a delay. With a strong northeast wind blowing last night, I could hear the familiar hums of peanut combines and cotton pickers in the distance; they were racing to gobble up as much crop as possible before showers fell just after midnight.
Rain is a fickle force of nature. It can be a blessing and a beast. Along with sunlight and heat, rainfall is vital to crop production. The 2015 crop season has been a roller coaster ride of variations in rainfall amounts in different locations. Some areas nearly drowned early in July and then baked during the month of August. It only takes short drives in the Franklin Southampton area to notice tremendous variations in crop appearances. Many locations have beautiful crops with exceptional yield potential while others have suffered greatly from drought.
High moisture in late June and early July has produced outstanding corn yields that should set records. I am also hearing positive yield reports about cotton and peanuts. As corn harvest moves into its final stages, local producers raced to the fields to dig peanuts and defoliate cotton. Recent, favorable weather has allowed for ideal conditions to accomplish these tasks. Low humidity, ample sunshine, and high heat accumulation matured cotton and peanut crops and gave us an opportunity for an early start to fall harvest chores.
Harvesting a crop can be a well-orchestrated ballet of manpower and machine or it can be a dance with the devil. Logistically, it is a tremendous task to move tons upon tons of grain, cotton, and peanuts off a field. Harvest equipment can only be as efficient as the support crew and their equipment. Combines and cotton pickers often sit idle, delayed by long elevator lines, full trucks, and overflowing cotton module builders.
There are few things in a farmer’s life more satisfying than the act of bringing in a crop. Five months ago, a seed and a prayer were gently placed in the Earth. With hours of work, worry and hope, those seeds should have produced healthy plants which in return creates a quality, agricultural product.
It is very difficult to describe the emotions that surface during crop harvest, especially when above average yields are involved. Months of planning, budgeting, and borrowing have all culminated into about a six week harvest window. This is the climax that has been building since fall soil samples were taken eleven months ago. Payday is finally around the corner. As crops come in, are weighed and get graded, yield and profit can be estimated. The non-farming public cannot fathom the relief of, after living and operating on borrowed money all year, the realization of paying out. All producers anticipate that one particular load of soybeans or module of cotton that will put them in the black.
Along with the financial concerns, come more animalistic emotions. There is something magical about huge, diesel powered, steel workhorses roaming the local farm fields. Any farmer that doesn’t get a lump in their throat at the start and finish of a harvest season is either heartless or a liar. When that combine cranks up for the last day of crop harvest, floods of fond memories can be overwhelming. Most producers have danced this dance for 20, 30, maybe 40 years. They have seen all types of successes and disasters; watched the older generation pass on, and have seen technology explode. Farmers, especially older ones, have an uncanny knack for remembering dates and years that correlate with particular task and crop conditions. They have stories of two-row equipment, no cab tractors, and the drought of 1980. All these memories can be triggered by the turn of a tractor key or the fragrance of dug peanuts.
Though the rain today will put the breaks on harvest for a spell, it will continue, as it has for generations, and soon all the crops will be in the house. Hopefully all the local producers can keep all the lienholders at bay until next fall. Another crop season brings a whole new set of commodity and weather concerns but also brings the opportunity for fantastic farm possibilities.
From My Field to Your Home,
*Photo Credit: Hope and Harmony Farms (Stephanie Pope)