Edmonton

Alberta farmer takes to frozen field to salvage oat crop, video goes viral

Clarence Ewasiw’s combine churns through the icy furrows, flinging straw into the snow. It’s a strange sight in February, even for an agricultural stronghold like Alberta’s Thorhild County.

'Beautiful crops, you just couldn't get them off'

Damp conditions last fall prevented many Alberta farmers from harvesting their crops before winter. (Pixabay)

Clarence Ewasiw's combine churns through the icy furrows, flinging straw into the snow.

It's a strange sight in February, even in an agricultural stronghold like Alberta's Thorhild County.

Temperatures have dipped below -16 C and the wet snow continues to clog his combine, but it's his last chance to recover what remains of his oat crop after a waterlogged harvest season.

"Last fall we were in a drought situation, our county was declared a disaster area and everything turned out and everything was just fine," said Ewasiw.

"This year, totally different. So much rain, every second day we had rain. You couldn't get into the fields. Beautiful crops, you just couldn't get them off."

Ewasiw farms about 15,000 acres of oat and canola in the county north of Edmonton. 

Much of this year's crop is swathed, lying under snow, making it difficult to salvage come spring. Some of the standing crop was so frozen, the tips shattered, leaving few seeds on the plant.

But when a stint of unseasonably warm weather started to thaw out his fields, he decided to haul his combine out of storage and make the most out of the brutal season.

'It will make ends meet'

Ewasiw has harvested 140 acres so far.

"We were going to try in January but we had a lot hoarfrost and minus-20-degree weather. So when it turned out we had some nice weather, we hit her hard," he said. 

"When we first started in the snow in the laid out crop and things were plugging up, but the weather kind of turned in our favour for the last four days and we were able to keep on going."

Though most of his crop is spoiled by the snow, he needs to get what he can to "put a little bit of money in the bank."

This year, he was expecting a $700,000 crop, but with the damp conditions, he'll fetch maybe $350,000, if he can salvage the rest of his frost-covered grain.

"I got an operating loan and payments to make in the beginning of March so I had incentive to salvage whatever we can," he said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"It will make ends meet."  
 

Combining in the dead of winter has made Ewasiw the talk of the town.

A video of him combining through the snow, shot by a curious neighbour has garnered more than 300,000 views on Facebook, and a flood of comments, including "You can't get a good man down" and "Only farmers understand what a gamble farming is."

Many farmers in the area are in the same situation, and the community feels for them, said Ewasiw.

He plans to work the fields around the clock as long as the warm weather holds out, and suspects other producers in the area may follow suit.

"I hope everybody can get their crop off. If we wait until spring when the ground thaws out, we won't be able to get out in the field. Then you'll be combining on water and potholes rather than snow and ice."
 

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Ken Dawson