Saturday November 22, 2014

Mother Nature still controls crops


If there is one thing I can recall from my youth and that is the way Dad and Grandpa watched the skies. They listened to every weather forecast they could on radio, or the one television channel we had back then (yes I am old enough to recall a one station world, and in black and white to boot).

As farmers they realized that the biggest influence on a crop was weather.

As a result when a farmer stopped at the local elevator and headed to the little office adjacent to the elevator, the coffee thick, the smoke from pipes and cigarettes in the air, the chug of the old power source in the basement like some primal heartbeat of the beast, weather was the primary topic.

Sure the assembled farmers would likely get around to talking Roughriders in the summer, marveling at the efforts of Ron Lancaster and George Reed, and hockey in the winter, when players such as Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull were heroes, but weather always came first.

Today the technology of farming in far ahead of those days.

Crop varieties have changed, machinery is near scifi by comparison to a disc seeder, and of course the way crop nutrients are applied, and crop protection products used, farmers have a greater level of control over productivity today.

But that level still pales when compared to what weather means to production.

In 2013 everything weather wise seemed to align perfectly across most of the Canadian Prairies, and couple with the agronomic advances of farming, a record crop was produced.

This year we see the exact opposite in terms of the impact weather can have.

Spring was slow to arrive and farmers were pushed to the last minute to even get the crop seeded.

In many cases along the eastern side of Saskatchewan and into western Manitoba many farmers probably wish the crop had never been  planted.

The rains which struck at the end of June flooded thousands of acres of crop, much of it with zero chance of recovering to the point of being harvested in the fall.

Heavy rain fell across much of eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba during the Canada Day weekend, dropping anywhere from 160 millimetres up to 260 mm in the hardest hit areas.

In such cases farmers lose the seed, fertilizer, and in many cases an application of herbicide, the money invested washed away.

I have seen industry estimates suggesting at least three million acres in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and possibly as many as six million acres, will not produce a crop this year.

The numbers include two million which went unseeded and another million or so that are assumed to be lost completely after recent rains.

There is very little good news to glean from the situation, although some farmers in the affected areas are likely to have drop carryover from last year’s bumper drop to facilitate some cash flow this fall.

But no amount of carryover can deal with the massive loss, and even crop insurance will be hard pressed to deal with such widespread and massive losses.

The situation is one where government is likely to have to add to the funding to help farmers deal; with the floods, just as Provincial Disaster Assistance Program (PDAP) does for home and business owners.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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