A couple of posts ago I showed a picture of the “new” combine on the island which we had just observed harvesting wheat. The second partner in the trio of new grain farmers was conducting a public event in conjunction with Transition Salt Spring in which interested folks in the community could buy freshly harvested wheat moments after it was harvested.
While the event was scheduled to take a half hour, it ended up taking more than two hours to harvest the acre and a half field because of long delays due to mechanical problems. I rememeber speaking to Partner #1 in the spring who was optimistic that the old combine they were purchasing would probably work fine since it had been well taken care. But he was also concerned that the high complexity of the machine would make problems difficult to deal with, especially on an island.
After one swath of the field length, a small congregation of farmers and the mechanically inclined collectively scratched heads and furrowed brows until, after some time, hydraulic oil was added. After that, the combine continued its job but with regular stops along the way to coax the crop from the cutters to the auger.
Once the crop was off the field, a trailer was backed up beside the combine and the crop was transferred. Result: a smallish amount of grain mixed with a disappointing amount of chaff. And, when we got home, the distinctive smell of petroleum product in the grain we bought. A couple of days later, the farmer replaced the grain, not wanting to take any chances with a possibly contaminated product. I have since learned that some gizmo on the combine was found to be leaking hydrualic oil and that that may have been the reason for the smell.
So, on the face of it, one could be disappointed with the prospect of growing grain here. I would simply say that the combine itself has a huge bearing on the economics of the crop so if the partnership can restore the machine to a reliable working condiiton that they only need to worry about the weather. In any case, this year apparently wasn’t the best for wheat due to rains that didn’t stop until June.
As I understand it, the size of the grain plots this year was deliberately small due the test-phase nature of the operation. Lessons were undoubtedly learned and probably won’t be repeated. In that sense, Salt Spring took a step toward providing a significant amount of food energy albeit at great fossil fuel cost, probably at more than a 100:1 fuel to food energy ratio.
I really don’t know if the strategy they are employing has much of a future in the context of decreasing fossil fuel affordability but I have been studying other methods of grain harvesting and hope to write about when I’ve got it all figured out.