Is the last day of harvest a happy day because it is done? Or is it a sad day because it is done?
It can certainly be a happy day because it signals everything that was done in the previous 12 months has been accomplished. The decisions that started with deciding what fields grow what crops, the purchase of seed, fertilizer, herbicide, then equipment repair or replacement, application of everything, watching markets to make early sales based on what looks like a good price, and trying to make plans on what the expected yield will be, all these things have come together to determine what kind of a year it will be for income. When those last rows disappear into the combine is when the crop year is officially over. All those plans and work to accomplish them are realized by how full the bins are.
It is also a happy day because now there is immunity from the bad weather and breakdowns. We have started getting ready for next year with fall tillage and have goals to accomplish before the ground freezes but the major hurdle has been crossed when the crop is completely out of the field.
Any bad weather now will be an inconvenient nuisance and what tasks we start this fall in our empty fields we will complete next spring. When the last load leaves the field completing harvest, it is a time to say to the farming gods in that same voice we used as a child, "You can't touch me, you can't touch me."
As the last load is hauled out of the last field, it marks the end of this crop year. There is a sense of relief that is followed by the sadness that there is all there will be. There are no hopes for a better yield because there is nothing left to haul in from the field. Whatever has been harvested is all we are going to get. For weeks, we have thought about yield per acre as we went from field to field, now we are thinking about yield for the whole farm and total bushels to sell that will determine our income until next harvest.
Every crop year, no matter how good or bad, is a mix of pleasant surprises and at least a few disappointments. Some fields did better than expected and some fields were a letdown in their results. We wonder why because next year we do not let those bad things happen again and we build on the good things. Was it a poor choice of seed? Did the herbicide do its job? Was there a problem with poor drainage or either too much or too little rain? Some of our answers we can figure out and for the rest we go to our fertilizer, seed, and herbicide dealers and the extension service seeking answers because the plans for next year have begun.
There is something in every crop that makes it stand out from the other years. Those events are memorable because they are good or because they are bad. For me, this year was memorable because on the last day, I combined that last 17-acre field that had waited for a week to be harvested as all my bins were full including the holding bin and all the wagons. I had to wait for the calendar to catch up so I could deliver corn I sold last spring to the ethanol plant across the road for November delivery. To sweeten things even more, last spring's sale price was considerably better than today's cash price.