Rice Harvest Coming Up!

Rice is plumping and ripening up out in the fields. We’re now about 3 weeks out from bringing it in. This is actually our ninth year (!) harvesting rice and I can almost say that we are becoming somewhat competent at it.

For a farmer who aims to make a living from growing a grain crop, which I do, approaching harvest is a time of tremendous anticipation, anxiety, excitement. The work itself is lively and fun (at least when there is no crisis or breakdown) and at the end of it there is a concrete accomplishment, measurable by the fifty pound bag or by the ton. Only then will we know exactly how close we’ve come to reaching our productivity goals.

Naturally, on a multispecies integrated farm production isn’t our only goal. We want to improve the landscape and soil to manage water more easily and to build soil fertility, and to build a business model that is personally, socially, and environmentally sustainable in every way possible. If we can do this and create habitat along the way for various creatures that come to call or come to live in our rice project, that’s also a plus.

Looking back, we started harvesting rice with sickles and threshing by hand, and then with a 1930’s thresher. Then we got a rice combine and some rice hulling equipment from China. That rice combine was rickety and loud and would easily get stuck in any soft spot in the field. Also, it harvested the rice into bags which had to be tied, then lifted and carried several times.

Our older Chinese rice combine. Three wheels of craziness!

Our older Chinese rice combine. Three wheels of craziness!

A real turning point was when we finally were able to acquire Japanese equipment, including a modern combine, gravity wagon, dryer, and huller. Every one of these items except for the huller has some sort of domestic American machinery analog, but the Japanese items are much cheaper, much better, and always sized for the correct scale of operations. The only downside is that they are documented and labeled in Japanese and spare parts are a long way away.

Using the same kit of tools as a small rice farm in Japan would use, we have begun to get a grip on the process, which is good, because if our harvesting and drying methods hadn’t kept up with field production our old way of doing things would simply not be able to keep up. I still don’t think our execution is going to be as sharp as a typical farm in Japan, but we’re getting closer!

Last weekend the farm and bakery were the first stop on the Addison County Tour de Farms bike tour hosted by Acorn. While unfortunately we weren’t able to sample any rice, we were be able to show off some of our cool machines and to sign people up for rice preorders and we had roasting ducks for sale on the spot and plenty of pastries and bread available. Also our fruit trees have given us a good year so we had some nice plums on offer too.