MOLT, Mont. – The hum of the combine engine as its starts to life, the whoosh of the header as it rotates through the crop, these are the sounds of harvest time. The pea fields are abuzz on the Downs’ family farm and the days will be long, but the culmination of an entire growing season is here.
Will Downs and his family have worked hard to cultivate their crop, there were setbacks of course, but none of that really matters as the harvest crew gets to work. It’s showtime.
2019 has been a bit of an odd year. The winter wheat crop for the Downs family is usually ready to harvest by now, but the record moisture experienced by the area has left it a little behind.
“We tried a little bit of the wheat before we went to peas, but it’s still a little wet,” reported Will.
The malt barley crop, surprisingly, is still green in places as well, and Will predicts it will be another week before it is ready for harvest.
But the peas where ready, so the Downs family wasted no time.
The Downs family raises dry-edible peas, which Will explains are much different than your traditionally thought off garden-variety peas. Dry-edible peas have a relatively low moisture content, about 12-13 percent, and it is their seeds that are mainly utilized.
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The Downs usually store most of their harvested crop on the farm in bins and then market the peas throughout the year, keeping a close eye on the market.
“Most of the crop will be ground up into a powder and used as a protein supplement,” explained Will.
The top end of the crop will be made into higher quality end products, like bags of split peas which could be used in cooking.
The harvest crew on the farm was able to chug along for three full days before part of the operation was halted by the season’s first major breakdown.
“We had the welds break on a bracket that holds up a bearing on my combine,” Will admits.
The breakdown completely put Will out of commission, at least for a short time. He was able to limp the combine back to the shop so it was in a clean environment to weld. Welding out in a dry field is never a good idea and the Downs try to avoid it if at all possible. Will’s fingers are crossed that he won’t have to order any parts, which could delay him even further.
Will, his dad and brother can all weld, but this particular break is tricky and it needs to be done right so a friend of the family that is a certified welder will come over and re-weld the break so Will can get back to harvesting.
Like any farmer, Will is taking it all in stride. The stresses associated with harvesting don’t seem to bother the young farmer that much. Growing up on the family farm has taught him to roll with the punches and take each day as it comes.
Once the peas are done being harvested the crew will move onto the wheat and then eventually the barley crop. And soon, even harvest season will be over and it will be on to the next for Will and the rest of the Downs family.