It is perhaps the most well-known and trivialized agricultural activity in the minds of consumers. It is often the only agricultural reality of which they are aware, without being able to appreciate all the precision, nor imagine how critical this moment in the activity of the farmer is.
From the harvest depends entirely the income of the farmer.
Throughout the crop cycle, he had to carry out various technical activities, varying according to the crop and period, he had incurred costs (mechanization, tillage, labor, seeds, irrigation, land rent, energy, farm management, occupational safety, administration, certification, etc.).
Some crops have a cycle of a few months, others of one year, some even have cycles higher than one year, as is the case with late oranges, whose cycle lasts about 15 months, and which bloom while the previous harvest is not yet picked.
On the other hand, perennial crops (vines, olive trees, citrus fruits, orchards, asparagus, etc.) go through a juvenile phase that lasts, depending on the case from 2 to 8 years, during which they don't yet produce, or in a very limited amount.
In forestry, harvesting takes place only every 20 or 30 years, sometimes more, and it is the rotation of cut areas that generates the farmer's annual income.
Meanwhile, the farmer has not any cash receipts. He must work, invest, and pay his labor, his suppliers, his electricity, his accountant, and his taxes on the income of the previous year.
An employee generally manages a monthly income, a craftsman or a self-employed person manages a variable income, according to the payment of the invoices of his activity.
A farmer has to manage an annual income, and it can be very complex. With this annual income, he has to pay his employees every month, his suppliers periodically invest, but he also has to feed himself, maintain his family, take a little time for himself.
See "Who will feed us?” Https://culturagriculture.blogspot.com.es/2017/03/100-which-will-weave.html.
His only alternative to stagger his income throughout the year is to have harvests spread out over several months, which is not always easy.
He works all year round with one goal, the harvest. He has also to protect his crops from diseases, pests and inclement weather.
In recent weeks in Europe, late frosts have caused severe damage (https://www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Spectacular-scene-in-Chablis-vineyards-as-winemakers-battle-frost). Farmers who are not equipped, or who have not had the possibility to protect the two successive waves of frost, will see their 2017 income seriously reduced, sometimes even wiped out.
Under these conditions, it's easy to understand why farmers, at harvest time, can be led to work on weekdays, on weekends, on public holidays, day and night. In fact, the criterion is simple. If climatic conditions are favorable and the crop has arrived at its optimum maturity, it's imperative to do everything possible to take the crop under cover.
Because it can occur unpleasant things that could jeopardize the crop, and therefore the farmer's income.
Severe mechanical failure can delay mechanical harvesting for several hours or days, exposing it to bad weather or over-ripeness.
A strike by the personnel or by transport can jeopardize all or part of the harvest of the most delicate productions.
The weather is probably the most serious risk that farmer must bear. I have already spoken to you extensively, especially last year, which was a climatically nightmarish campaign.
You can review the various episodes of my (unfinished) series on bad weather, centered on fruit production, since I speak to you first and foremost of lived experiences, but which you can extrapolate or adapt to most vegetable productions:
Nº2 The water drop
Nº3 The good weather
Nº4 The lack of cold
Nº5 Spring frost
Nº6 One night on alert
Nº7 The lack of light
Nº8 In destination
Nº10 Annus horribilis
In plant production, the life of the farmer is a permanent alternation of periods of extreme intensity (soil preparation, sowing, frost protection, certain interventions on the crop, and particularly harvesting) with moments, not necessarily quiet, but during which there is no intervention or urgency.
See "But what is this job?" https://culturagriculture.blogspot.com.es/2015/08/51-but-what-is-this-job.html.
In short, harvesting is a goal, an end in itself. Ultimately, all agriculture has this unique purpose.If the crop is missed, the whole year is missed.
But the harvest will be a success only if it's sold well. But that's a different story ...