This article is about gathering crops. For the NSA computer, see Harvest (computer). For the Neil Young album, see Harvest (1972 album).
Harvesting is the process of gathering crops off the fields. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labour-intensive activity of the growing season. On large, mechanized farms, harvesting utilizes the most expensive and sophisticated types of farm machinery, like the combine harvester. Harvest timing is critical, and involves a degree of risk and gambling, requiring an important decision each year, for each crop, that balances the likely weather conditions with the degree of crop maturity. Harvesting also encompasses the immediate post-harvest handling, including all of the actions taken from physically removing the crop, to sending it for further processing or to the consumer market, like cooling and preparation for initial storage.
In the era before mechanization the difficulty of providing for the increased volume of labour needed for the harvest was an perennial concern. In many agricultural areas schoolholidays were set to allow the children to work on their parents' farms. In Canada, immigration was timed to have most new arrivals land in the fall. Most dramatic were the harvest excursions, which saw thousands of labourers voyage to Western Canada each year. The development of the combine harvester that could bring in many crops mechanically solved many of these problems. Even today, harvesting of some labour-intensive crops, like fruits, sees significant labour shortages. It is not uncommon for the farms of southern Ontario to import labour from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
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Although harvesting and threshing are still frequently done by hand, their mechanization has begun to develop during recent years, especially where the crop is produced not for self-consumption but rather for commercial purpose.
The first mechanizedharvester to detach ears of maize from the standing stalks, the 'corn snapper', was built in North America in the middle of the 19th century.
Specially designed for harvesting maize as grain, the corn-sheller was initially a cornhusker in which the husking mechanism was replaced by a threshing one (usually of the axial type).
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