This has been a harvest season many would like to forget but will probably always remember. It has been a year of challenges and sometimes even opportunities. There have been decisions to make and directions to take. One thing is for sure, there will not be another one like it.
    In the 30 plus years we have been farming, there is only one year I can vividly recall, 1988, the year of the drought and our first year farming together. This is our benchmark year to compare against. I would rank this current year as very interesting. Maybe a top five year with the gamut of weather conditions we have endured from record amounts of torrential rain, hail, straight line winds and tornadoes. The only thing missing was an August freeze. Thank goodness that did not happen. If we can survive our worst, we can survive this one, too.
    I guess we could call this a strange year. It seems like seasons have been overlapping each other. This spring, many were still planting corn while trying to take the first crop hay between weather systems. This fall, we held off on starting to chop corn silage because we needed to take a fourth cutting on an old alfalfa stand. It is such a hassle to switch out chopper heads and reset knives between haylage and silage. Once we could start chopping corn silage it took us three weeks from start to finish. Jumping between fields to find enough green corn stalks on higher ground made for a long and drawn out job. Now we are combining high moisture corn and soybeans at the same time.
    At least we did not get stuck with the chopper and boxes. The only thing we had to drag was a dead tractor blocking a field road. I shut off the tractor waiting for Mark to meet me with a full load. When I tried to start the tractor, there was nothing. No power, no sound. Mark had to tow me with the chopper to the yard through the muddy trenches on the field road. Luckily it was milking time, and we had to stop. The tractor was fixed quickly, and we were back in the fields the next day.
    The only thing we have had to drag out of the field so far was the combine. Bill found a very soft spot and down it went. None of our tractors would even begin to pull him out. Thank goodness for wonderful neighbors who loaned us their big four-wheel drive tractor. That combined with one of our tractors was slowly able to work the combine free and up to firmer ground.
    Since we were done chopping and they did not really need my help with combining, I thought I would pop down to Illinois to visit my family. I love coming home in October. The smell of drying corn, the crunch of fallen leaves and the taste of fresh apple cider remind me I am home. As I scooted south on Interstate 35 into Iowa, I was suddenly engulfed in what I thought was a heavy fog. I soon realized there were three combines taking out a large field of soybeans, and the fog was really just a large dust storm. It was finally dry enough to get in the fields, and it was all hands on deck. Every truck, tractor, wagon and combine was finally moving. The weather was finally on the farmer’s side.
    When I got home, I soon discovered my brother was experiencing his own strange year. He didn’t start planting corn until June. Straight line winds laid down a couple of his corn fields; they recovered but had crooked stalks. Now, here it was mid-October and he was just starting to chop silage. Perfect timing for me. He was short a driver, and I was able to drive around our family fields once again. It was so much fun, but I was a little concerned. Austin warned me not to get stuck. Since it has been several decades since I have driven these fields, I was not too sure where the soft, low spots were. I scanned the lay of the land looking for dark, wet spots where previous tractors had left a trail. I tried to follow those trails through waterways as a guaranteed way of safe passage. It was so much fun kicking up a plume of dust trailing my chopper box between field and feedlot as I flew down the limestone gravel road.
    I felt like a teenager again helping my dad chop silage to feed the steers. Only the equipment is a bit bigger than in the old days, but it was still the same sense of freedom and achievement to be able to help.
    As we push through this harvest season, let us be thankful everyone is safe and we may get to try this again. This will be a year we will not soon forget, but as time polishes the sharp edges of our memories it will only be a benchmark to soften the blow of hard years to come.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.