The best part of most interviews in this business is not the actual topic of the story you are working on. Those are often mundane to be completely honest.
But a good interview, and that is reliant on the reporter asking good questions, and the person being interviewed being willing to respond in some depth, rarely stays on course with talk about only the topic of the story.
A good interview is more of a winding path than a straight road from start to conclusion.
The best times on the road are on those hairpin curves where I, as the journalist, get to set down my pen, and partake in a conversation over a shared java.
So recently I met up with Ivan Olynyk to discuss his recent penning of a manual on growing corn on the Canadian Prairies for winter grazing cattle.
As a one-time farm boy, whose interest was always livestock, with a level of disdain for the monotony of driving a tractor around a field, a tedious process with a 12-foot implement behind a small Case tractor, the labour reducing aspect of what he was writing about was rather obvious.
If cows can wander through the corn field and feed themselves, while spreading their own manure, during the coldest months of the year, it sounds pretty good to me.
But what I was particularly interested in when talking to Ivan was his comments on more and more farmer’s successfully growing corn to harvest and sell the grain.
When I was growing up corn was something they grew in the United States and Ontario, with maybe some acres encroaching into Manitoba, but the idea of growing corn for grain in Saskatchewan would have been preposterous.
Corn in those days was simply a crop requiring too many days to maturity, and too many heat units during the growing days, to be viable here.
That things have changed so dramatically over the last 30 years is testament to just how dramatic of steps have been taken in varietal development.
Of course, as Ivan and I discussed, it stands to reason that plant breeders, most of which work for large companies when it comes to corn, would look to create varieties to expand the range for corn.
In the true heart of corn country in the United States, they are likely near the limit in terms of corn acres based on rotations, and other factors.
So in order to sell more seed and to expand the market for new varieties, the boundaries of the normal range for corn has to expand.
That means developing varieties which mature more quickly, requiring less heat units. Such varieties won’t hit the production levels achieved in an Iowa corn field, but to a Prairie farmer looking for a high-value crop to grow in rotation with canola, corn can still be enticing.
The conversation soon grew to include some talk about soybeans.
They are another crop option farmers are looking at in Saskatchewan in areas that only a decade ago they would never have even considered it.
Again the value of soybeans make them attractive, if they can be successfully grown thanks to new varieties.
If one wants to take a slightly longer view of things, we hear a lot about global weather patterns changing. Many see our weather evolving to something more akin to the weather of Montana and the Dakotas. While that change will bring with it challenges, it will also lend itself to growing more corn and soybeans.
The Prairies may have been broke to grow wheat, and Canada may have earned a reputation as ‘Bread Basket to the World’ because of that wheat, but things are changing.
Cereal grains are a hard way to make money, and producers have embraced canola, pulse crops, and explored everything from borage to quinoa looking for alternatives to wheat, oats and barley.
Ivan suggested the search might be over thanks to the expanding ranges for corn and soybeans. I would have to agree, that along with canola, the three are likely to hold the interest of farmers as the crops with the best potential to generate significant gross returns per acre.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.