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Farmer Brian Kessel in his field south of McLean. Photo by Megan Lacelle

Brian Kessel kicks a lump of dirt in his field south of McLean, examining the moisture sopped up in the soil. “Another hour,” his hired hand said to him, even though by then it’ll be late in the afternoon with the sunlight fading.

 

“Last year we started harvesting and we never stopped. The grades were good so we were happy, but this year it’s staying wet, so grades drop, yields drop and the prices are dropping,” said the 40-year farming veteran.

 

Kessel joins hundreds of other farmers in Saskatchewan on the fight to get their crops out of the field and into the bins, but they’re battling against excess moisture, short days and cooling temperatures.

 

“It’s a lot of stress because you just can’t get going,” said Kessel. “We get one nice day and two or three bad days.”

 

 Harvest in Saskatchewan is currently about 20 per cent behind the five-year average and very far behind last year’s timeline said crop management specialist Shannon Friesen.

 

 “I think there’s a lot of anxiety out there, a lot of high stress - not only because we’re behind and people want to get out in the field, but also because a lot of crops, yields or quality, are not where we’d normally have them at,” she said. Comparing this year to last year’s bumper harvest doesn’t aid the stress.

 

 “We went from everything going right last year to almost everything going wrong this year,” said Friesen.

 

 Farmer Terry Palaschak, near Val Marie, said usually by this time he’s completed harvest, but the continuous moisture since April means he still has 4,500 acres to get off the ground.

 

 “We’re not measuring in hours left right now, it’s in weeks,” he said.

 

 “I always used to tell people that I juggled sticks and now I juggle chainsaws, and they’re all revved up.”

 

 With the increased pressure and strain on farmers this season there’s been a noticeable increase in calls to the Farm Stress Line; a mobile crisis line dedicated purely to the rural producers of Saskatchewan, serving more than 250 people per year.

 

Executive Director John McFadyen said they saw a 10 per cent increase in calls in July alone.

 

 “The top three issues that people phone about are financial debt, cash flow, and issues with crops and livestock. However, the top social issues range from stress, relationship problems to mental health concerns.” Out of the 262 calls last year four were suicide-related he added.

 

 Although both Kessel and Palaschak had never used the line, they have heard of it.

 

“I think it’s a real good thing,” Kessel said. “If you have a real big mortgage it could be stressful. I don’t have a mortgage, but if you have payments coming due and you can’t get your crop off, then it’d be pretty hard on you.”

 

For Palaschak, stress relating to the farm is nothing new. He started farming for his dad at age eight and bought his first piece of land at 13.

 

 “It’s not just a way of life anymore, it’s a business - one that depends heavily on the temperament of Mother Nature,“ he said.

 

 “It costs $3,000 every day as soon as your feet hit the floor,” he said. Between the price of equipment, chemicals, and more, the burden of farming weighs heavily on the results of harvest.

 

 Although the year remains average, in both quantity and quality, it’s the time constraints that are adding extra grey hairs and wrinkles to farmers all over the province. However, Kessel said it’s all part of the game.

 

 “Farming is like gambling, but instead of waiting for the next game it’s always next year, next year.”