Harvest time has changed over the years

Looking north from our Ferndale hills, Gore is in the foreground, further beyond are the Garvie Mountains and in between is a fair portion of Eastern Southland.

At this time of year when conditions are right across the area, we see the smoke from the stubble fires, indicating it’s harvest time.

My father used to say, ‘‘who sleeps at harvest time?’’, because in some seasons the window of good harvesting conditions is very brief so make the most of it while the opportunity presents itself.

In my youth there was a lot more wheat grown in Southland than there is now.

I had uncles in Central Southland who would be getting anxious in a late season. So when a warm afternoon norwester got up, the thistledown started flying and the moisture level was satisfactory, I would get a call to give a hand on the platform sewing bags on their Oliver headers.

The headers only had a cutting width of about 2m, filling a threebushel bag every minute.

If the wind kept blowing, the headers went well into the night — sometimes all night.

There is 27kg in a bushel, 81kg per bag, which meant in an hour 4860kg were headed.

It’s a far cry from today’s upmarket combine harvester.

My son Fraser was in the cabin of one recently, but it sounded more like a 747 cockpit.

It was fully computerised, and GPS took control of navigating it.

The hillside levelling system cutting bar was over 10m wide and that afternoon harvested 90 tonnes in an hour and 20 minutes.

One person on the controls and one on the trailer taking it to the person operating the auger at the silo.

The little Oliver needed at least three to make a crew and the lighting was feeble compared with its modern counterpart, which you can see for miles.

Things might seem primitive in my day, but before electricity the harvesters relied on the allimportant harvest moon to work late — hence its name.

It’s quite a unique phenomenon.

It is the biggest and brightest moon of the year and rises in the east as the sun sets in the west.

It rises very nearly at sunset for several nights in a row.

It is the full moon nearest the equinox — this year it will be on March 21.

It’s no wonder there were great festivals and celebrations when the harvest was gathered in.