Farmers received mixed bag of presents in 2012

There is always great anticipation as Christmas approaches.

What’s in those brighty wrapped boxes?

Will they contain the presents we always wanted or will we be in line at the return counter post-Christmas, waiting to exchange the gifts for something else?

There is even a chance the dreaded lump of coal will lurk under the tree.

Santa, what were you thinking?

Fate delivered many things to Canada’s farm industry this year: some valued presents, others we’d like to send back and some as upsetting as that lump of coal.

Prairie crop farmers got the best presents of the year: the best crop in several years and some of the highest grain and oilseed prices in decades.

Revenue from this crop will be excellent, allowing most producers to pursue whatever goals they have, from paying down debt to expanding their land and equipment base to maybe even treating their families to a holiday.

The benefits will be enjoyed widely, from equipment dealerships and grain companies to local merchants and service providers in small towns across the Prairies.

This present was even shared with federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, who likely can’t believe his good luck.

He ushered in one of the largest changes in prairie agricultural policy in decades, eliminating the CWB’s monopoly powers over wheat and barley markets.

The move had its supporters and detractors, but the latter had trouble attracting wide support when farmers had few difficulties selling wheat and barley at attractive prices into domestic and world markets desperate for supply.

If wheat prices were only $2 per bushel like in 2005-06, Ritz might have faced more opposition, but $8 wheat makes just about every grain producer smile, even if a promised durum mill and pasta plant are indefinitely delayed.

The boom in grain and oilseeds will also likely help Ritz usher through Growing Forward 2, which will likely cut billions of dollars from farm stability programs.

But pity poor cattle and hog feeders, wondering what they did to deserve sky high feed grain prices that robbed them of profits at a time when North American herds are the smallest in many years and the livestock cycle should be in its profitable swing.

It was a lump of coal indeed when drought hit the U.S. Midwest this summer, turning forecasts of a record crop into a disaster with the lowest corn yields since 1995.

The small herds and reduced slaughter were generating historically strong meat prices, but losses for hog producers and cattle feeders mounted as feeding costs soared.

Two of the largest hog producers on the Prairies collapsed and were forced into creditor protection. More lumps of coal were handed to those who sold grain to Puratone, who are now unsecured creditors, wondering if they will ever get paid.

And adding insult to injury, an episode of CTV’s W5 made hog production look abusive to urban viewers, even though most of the practices were considered humane by a panel of experts.

Meanwhile, beef producers suffered through the shutdown of one of Canada’s largest beef packers due to E. coli contamination. A lump of coal should go to the Canada Food Inspection Agency for its shoddy handling of the crisis.

On a happier note, shippers will gleefully play with their shiny new rail service legislation, something they wanted for so long to put them on a more equal footing with the railways.

The annual gift list cheers some and disappoints others, but as 2013 approaches, Canada’s farmers can look forward with optimism because they are among the most productive food producers in the world.

At a time when food demand is soaring, that skill is a valued gift indeed.

Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, D’Arce McMillan and Joanne Paulson collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.