Killarney Growing Project harvests field of canola during code yellow

Eleven volunteer combines straight-cut CFGB crop in record time


It was a harvest like no other, held amid pandemic COVID-19 restrictions, and achieved in record time.

Last Friday was the day that volunteers met at a 140-acre field a few miles northeast of town, to combine a crop of canola for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. 

But few witnessed the stunning annual charitable event, which is usually accompanied by a hundred or more onlookers, and a slap-up lunch in the field.

“It went so well,” said volunteer secretary with the Killarney Growing Project Betty Turner. “We had been at Level Orange, and then it lifted to Yellow that same day. It was amazing. So we didn’t have to wear masks. We were so relieved that the restriction had been lifted.”

This year only 11 combines turned up to harvest the crop, but in spite of the reduced number, it marked an historic event.

“It was the first time that we chose to straight cut the canola, because it was a shatter-resistant variety, L 233 Invigor,” said Turner. “And it went so good. It took them just over an hour, which is what it usually takes for around 20 combines. That was fast for 11 combines. – it was a record time for that few number of combines. They had these 45-foot headers, and the conditions were perfect. It was dry, the field was dry, and the canola was dry.”

Grain trucks took the canola seed straight from the field to the Paterson Grain terminal, where it was immediately sold, said Turner. 

The generated revenue from the sale of the oilseed then goes to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to help support developing nations, with both food supplies and with other programs such as agriculture projects and education, she said.

And the money raised can be met up to 4:1 by the federal government, making every donation and the crop value multiply several times over.

“On the day of the harvest we had ‘sold’ all but 15 of the 140 acres,” said Turner. “People donate $250 for an acre, which covers the costs of inputs, and they get their name on the big map, which goes up on display in the mall later this fall.”

Part of the day also included the annual sounds of a baritone horn, played by Killarney Growing Project musician Lloyd Jersak, along with his spiritual speech before the combines roared to life.

“He really does give a nice tribute,” said Turner. “And Lloyd plays a special role with the committee.”

And after a decade of dedication, this is to be Jersak’s last year with the group, he said, due to health reasons.

“I have been on the committee for about 10 years – as a volunteer member, and as one of the promoters,” said Jersak on Wednesday. “We are all promoters, and we all have our own social circles that we move in. I am just on my way to meet with some of them, and I am hoping to sell the remaining 10 acres this afternoon.”

After enjoying coffee and a meal with his friend’s family, Jersak did collect a generous cheque, plus a further donation to the Growing Project’s coffers, which made him very happy. 

“It went very well,” said Jersak. “I was just overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity. They sponsored 10 acres, plus he handed me a wad of 20-dollar bills, making $500, for two more acres.”

Turner added that the usual size of field cultivated each year is 160 acres, so the goal is to still fulfil that number of sponsorships – even if it involves stretching the imagination.

“We never turn money away,” said Turner. “The need is great. It all helps with our Killarney project, even if it means drawing more acres onto the map. It’s kind of a virtual map, and their names still go on it. Many people sponsor an acre in the name of someone who has passed away. Due to COVID, people weren’t able to donate on the day, which they often do, and also we missed the donation from RME’s annual golf tournament. So any further donations are gratefully being accepted.”

Jersak, who played “How Great Thou Art” as part of his last presentation in the field, said leaving the group was an emotional wrench.

“I have very mixed feelings about it,” said Jersak. “It’s been one of the most remarkable committees I have ever worked on. It’s been a joy to work with them, and it’s one I will really miss. Everyone gets along, even if we have our own opinions at times. I will continue communicating with them, and we will have a final wrap-up meeting once all the numbers are in.”

Over the years Jersak has travelled the world as part of his charitable involvements, and providing a meal for those in need is close to his heart.

“I have never missed a meal from poverty,” he said. “For many third-world people, they look for the next meal every day. I have experienced generosity; I have seen poverty in Haiti; and I have seen appreciation for small gifts. In Haiti a certain priest fed us. He gave us the best he had: white bread and jam, and Freshi. It was wonderful.”

This year’s crop yielded a good crop, said Turner, which added up to 5,231 bushels of canola off the 140 acres, or 37.37 bushels per acre.

“The netted amount is $54,922.93,” said Turner. “It was a great day. We wanted to celebrate the harvest, even though we had to deal with COVID. And anyone who still wishes to send donations, they will be welcomed. Donations can be sent to: Killarney Growing Project, Box 1660, Killarney, Manitoba, R0K 1G0. Every amount helps, even $20, because the donations are matched up to four times by the government. People need our help, especially in these times of COVID.”

ELEVEN LINED UP AND ROARING – Eleven combines were lined up in a row last Friday at lunchtime, to straight cut 140 acres of canola in record time, about eight miles northeast of town. It was the big day for the Killarney Growing Project volunteers, who later sold the crop to help raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank charity, and they missed the usual crowds and the wonderful lunch in the field.

A FINAL TUNE FROM LLOYD JERSAK – Lloyd Jersak, a long time volunteer with the Killarney Growing Project, blew a final poignant harvest tune on his baritone horn in the group’s field of canola last Friday. This marked Jersak’s tenth and final year with the committee, and he will be missed.


From the air…