Better Late than Never

Nick and Matthew Scharf were among the last farmers in their part of Saskatchewan to switch to MacDon FlexDrapers

 In Perdue, Saskatchewan, the Scharf name is known for more than the family’s 13,000 acre (5260 ha) farm located west of town. It’s also tied to the town’s spectacular 18 hole golf course (Perdue Oasis) as well as the product EZEEWRAP®, an internationally distributed kitchen plastic wrap dispenser that has become a very successful business for the family, which is elebrating its 30th year. Both businesses were the brainchild of the late Jim Scharf, who believed strongly in giving back to the community he loved.

“He was an entrepreneur with a big heart for our small town,” recalled son Nick Scharf. “I can distinctly remember when the national news came out here to do a story on him, he was asked why he kept the EZEEWRAP in Perdue; after all, there’s no reason in the world that a business like this should be here. But I remember dad telling them ‘if the plant was in Toronto or down in Mexico, what would that do for Saskatchewan? What would that do for Perdue?’”

With Jim’s unexpected passing in 2009 at the young age of 56, Nick (30) and his brother Matthew (29) suddenly found themselves at the helm of the family’s operations. Neither of them had time to manage the golf course (or golf for that matter), so they leased Perdue Oasis to a management company to run on their behalf. Their mother Bruna has continued to carry on with the family business of EZEEWRAP headquartered in Perdue, leaving the brothers to focus exclusively on the farm and its three employees.

The brothers farm wheat, canola, lentils and peas. The dramatic effects of climate change have brought significantly more rain to the area; so much rain in fact that the brothers are changing the way they farm.

“It’s raining so much now it’s like having irrigation some years. With the extra moisture we thought we should try to find ways to reap similar yields to those experienced in other parts of the world with higher rain levels. So we went on the internet and used Google to do some research.”

The brothers kept coming across the name Phil Needham, a crop management specialist who runs Needham Ag Technologies, LLC., out of North-Calhoun, Kentucky. Phil’s company works with farmers through the midwest helping them employ intensive European crop management systems to increase their yields.

“We just called him up and he told us a couple of things to try on our wheat. He suggested we put a stream bar on our sprayer and top dress during the plant’s growth, so we purchased a set of bars from him and tried it. The first wheat crop we had was crazy. We normally get upwards of 50 bushels to the acre with our hard spring wheat, but that year we got 90 bushels. It was nuts! We have been hooked on top dressing ever since.”

Scharf says that it can be tricky top dressing fertilizer like this, and it is not without its risks.

“We top dress our wheat once in the growing season, right after herbicide application. Last year we tried it with our canola as well. As far as we know we are the only farm in the area trying this. It’s difficult to do because canola requires precise timing, and you have to do it in the rain at flowering so you don’t burn the plants. As such, you can’t do the whole farm because you can’t count on it raining every day.”

Last year’s canola test resulted in a 20% to 30% increase in yield over their normal yields. The Scharfs couldn’t be certain if the results were a fluke or not, so they repeated the test again this year. At the time of interview, the Scharfs still had much of their canola in the field, but were optimistic the top dressing had been successful.

“We flew the field with our drone and took an NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) image of it. The photo showed a distinctly stronger growth pattern between the part of the field we top dressed and the part we didn’t, so it certainly looks promising.”

But top dressing is not the only alternative cropping practice the brothers have employed to be more successful. Other examples include seeding all of their crops by population (even though it's more work) and harvesting their lentils at much higher moisture levels than normal.

“Something else we do differently is that we will use a grain dryer as a management tool, as opposed to just emergencies. For example, we’ll grain dry our lentils in August sometimes, to harvest ahead of the rains and save the grade.”

The Scharf’s willingness to try innovative cropping methods would make one think that they are also early adopters when it comes to equipment. Surprisingly, they are not.

“We kind of take a wait and see approach when it comes to trying new technology. There’s nothing worse than buying the first one out and then you have to spend most your time fixing it.”

That reluctance meant that when the Scharfs purchased new MacDon FD75s for their three New Holland CR8090 combines this spring, that they were some of the last farmers around Perdue to own FlexDrapers.

“Previously, we were using three rigid drapers for our grains and three flex augers for our pulses. We thought we would just use the new MacDons for straight cutting our grain, and still use our old flex tables on our pulses because we were skeptical about how they would perform cutting close to the ground.”

“But the FD75s were more than impressive. Because of the rain this year both our lentils and peas were really flat. You could put a pop can in the field and the can would stick above the peas, which had been originally four feet tall. Initially, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how the FD75s would hold up when we started hitting dirt at times, like you do when harvesting pulses. I thought they would be stalling and there would be nothing left by the end of harvest. But they flexed just fine.”

Even more remarkable for the Scharfs was how clean the FD75s left their fields.

“The first field we got into, we thought wow, there’s nothing left; these headers got everything! We’ve also been impressed with how rugged these headers were for us this year. We haven’t had to do anything to them. I mean, try to find a guy who did 2,500 acres (1012 ha) of pulses on each header this year without a problem.”

Performance like that sold the Scharfs on the merits of the FlexDraper®, giving them the confidence to get rid of their old flex tables. Now they are harvesting all of their crops with just the one header.

“We’re just in love with these headers. It’s really neat how easy it is to switch from flex to rigid mode; it’s a two second job. We also like how easy it is to clean out the draper with the holding pan underneath. Maintenance is nothing, there’s just a few grease nipples here and there. These headers are plug and play.”

But the FD75s are not the only MacDon product that has impressed the Scharfs recently. They are also enjoying their MacDon M155 Windrower purchased to cut their canola, which they only started growing in 2013. But before buying the M155 they did a little homework first.

“If you talk to a guy who custom swaths for a living, he can tell you a thing or two about windrowers. Well, we’re good friends with a custom swather outfit out of Coaldale, Alberta called Magill Farm & Field Services. Every year he buys five new MacDons because he needs something that will keep him in the field, something that works good. Now, this is a guy whose best friend is a swather dealer for the competition, but he is wall to wall MacDon. He said to us he would challenge anyone to bring any swather into a field and keep up with his MacDons.”

With that endorsement, the Scharfs purchased one of his used MacDons, a decision they say they haven’t regretted, just like their FD75s.

“We’d been happy with the headers we were using, but everyone else around here was using FD75s. We just thought they weren’t cutting as many pulse acres as we were, so they could get away with using just one header for all their harvesting. But now that we have them we understand. I guess you could say we were a little late to the party, but we’re certainly glad we finally got here.”