What looked only months ago like golden bounty for many Prairie farmers has become instead a harvest of frustration.
A cruel combination of bad economics and worse weather has left producers with abundant grain, nowhere to move it and time running out before it moulders in the bin. "That's what makes it the most frustrating harvest in decades," said Rod Scarlett of Alberta's Wild Rose Agricultural Producers. "Economically, the returns aren't out there."
A near-perfect growing summer raised hopes as high as the lush fields of wheat, barley and canola ripening across much of the Prairies. But as harvest time came, so did the rain.
By Thanksgiving, farmers who were normally putting their combines away for the season were just getting them warmed up - and some work still isn't finished.
"I tried a little bit of wheat last week and it wouldn't even go through the combine," said Randy Hoback, who farms about 1,300 hectares near Canwood, Sask.
Early rains wiped out much of Manitoba's crops before they could even be seeded.
The late rain elsewhere didn't reduce the quantity of the crop - which turned out to be the biggest in years - but it did reduce quality as the vast majority of it went into grain bins damp.
Worse, much of it was harvested and stored during a mid-October spell of unseasonable warmth.
Grain that's binned both damp and warm - as was much of the Alberta harvest - can only be stored two or three months before mould sets in, said Don Pauly, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture.
"It could end up being worthless," said Pauly, who has been taking calls every day from farmers wondering what to do about the problem.
They have two choices: Use an auger to move grain from bin to bin in an attempt to cool it down, or pay to have it dried.
Drying wheat costs about 40 cents per bushel - not an attractive option when the grain's value has already been reduced to about $2 a bushel in a generally depressed market.
Scarlett suggested orders may be shrinking because of the high dollar, which makes it harder for Canada's regular customers to buy as much grain as they have in the past.
To add to the squeeze, taking off damp crops adds as much as $1,200 in fuel to the cost of harvesting every 400 hectares because combines have to go slower to pick up heavy, water-logged swaths, said Scarlett.
"It was a really difficult, difficult harvest."
But Pauly said the increased quantity of this year's harvest could still make up for its declining quality in farmers' pocketbooks.
Hoback acknowledged he took more grain off his fields this fall than he ever has - more than 120 bushels a hectare of wheat and upward of 130 bushels of canola. But like so many other farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, he wonders how much good it will do him.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime crop and it's frustrating," he said.