As we considered what we wanted to do with our farmland for the 2022 crop year, we opted for a new venture in grain crop farming with fall 2021 planting of soft red winter wheat. Wheat isn’t a particularly common crop in Chautauqua County but the micro-climate we enjoy along the Lake Erie littoral provides favorable conditions for a decent yield.
Our fall planting was nearly cut short before I made it into the field with the grain drill. While making final set-up adjustments to the seed metering mechanism, I managed to fillet my forearm up to the elbow and made an immediate detour to the Westfield hospital emergency room. The on-duty surgeon anticipated my determination to get back into the field and took special care to weave stitches that would survive the abuse I would inflict on his needlework. The wound healed quickly, and we had our wheat seed in the ground by mid-October.
With no prior experience growing wheat, I chose a path of minimal risk and followed the recipe for wheat production laid out in Cornell’s Field Crop Production Guide. Fertilizer, herbicides, and fungicides worked as advertised and the crop matured according to plan through spring and early summer. The biology of grain development proceeded according to plan, the small grain market went through multiple gyrations caused by climatic and geopolitical catalysts whilst the sprouts of wheat were lying dormant under a blanket of western NY snow. Drought predictions and crop failures in the southern hemisphere and western hemisphere, combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, conspired to send wheat futures prices to record highs. I’m sure the more business savoy wheat farms took care to hedge some of their 2022 crop and locked in sale contracts for the harvest that would come later in the summer. I watched the commodity markets with guarded optimism that I might actually turn a profit on my first wheat crop.
Winter yielded to spring and the wheat came to life and metabolized all those expensive fertilized inputs into weighty tassels of grain. While I fretted over rainfall deficits and insect infestations, the plant genetics followed their script and matured just as predicted in the seed company. In previous years, my harvest preparation for our canola crops fell short of goal with the weak link typically surfacing about the time I took to the field in the combine. This year, I entered the field of battle with the combine fully operational and ready to do its duty. By any modern standard, I probably looked like something out of a “Green Acres” re-run or an episode from antique road show. But our antiquated equipment prevailed, and the harvest was successful. Putting my newly issued Class A driver’s license to good use, I hauled my 10-tons of prized wheat to the Howlett grain elevator in Avon, NY in a tractor-trailer loaned by Schofield Farms. My token contribution to the national wheat harvest doesn’t amount to a drop in the proverbial bucket. But on a purely emotional level, I feel a modest sense of accomplishment in producing a crop that has value in the marketplace represents some infinitesimal contribution to the food supply problems wrought by drought and war making. Next year, will ratchet up our campaign to feed the world. Plans to put in 30 acres of wheat this fall are well underway with the seed and other inputs in hand and field tillage work underway.
And if putting in a wheat crop wasn’t a daring enough farming venture, we also jumped into the fresh produce business this year with a stall at the Westfield Farmers Market. In recent years, we’ve planted a sizeable garden with a variety of vegetables, fruit trees and berry bushes with the intention of providing a diverse mix of fresh produce for our B&B guests and our own dinner table. The bounty of out gardening endeavors far exceeds the appetite of our B&B guests or our immediate family. So, for years, we’ve been pawning-off the over-production of the garden and orchard on B&B guests, friends and work colleagues. This year, we decided on a new marketing strategy and opted to pitch our tent Saturday mornings on the Westfield village common and peddle the bounty of our garden to the general public. Thus far, the experiment in direct marketing has worked well and we’ve solved the frustration of tossing spoiled vegetables and fruits into the compost pile for want of bona fide consumers. Direct marketing fruits and vegetables through the farmers market has deepened our appreciation for the complexity and necessity of a resilient and robust food supply at all levels of the supply chain. As a local farm market producer, we can’t begin to appreciate the challenges and business models for sophisticated supermarket supply chains, nor can we match the reliability, economies of scale and year-around availability of national chains and big corporate suppliers. … but we can be very competitive on the basis of quality, freshness, and perhaps most importantly, food supply energy opportunity cost.