Grain delivery woes could spill into seeding woes

It’s been a long, cold winter, but seeding could be underway on the southern Prairies within a month and within six weeks in most other areas. 


Spring seeding is always a rush, but this spring has some quirks that could make it particularly stressful.


The same transportation issues that have hurt grain movement have also hampered fertilizer deliveries. In addition, fertilizer prices have escalated dramatically since last fall, and the price risk has suppliers hesitant to own product. 


This combination of events means more fertilizer than usual must still be moved into position. And now, road bans are hindering movement.


Scrambling for fertilizer is one factor that could tie up time and energy. Spot shortages have been occurring with alarming regularity each spring, and sometimes producers have had to stop seeding while waiting for fertilizer to arrive. 


Industry observers warn that de-lays could be more prevalent this year, particularly if farmers across Western Canada end up in the field at the same time.


Seeding typically takes precedence over grain deliveries, but this spring will be different. With rail movement finally increasing, producers will be more inclined to find a way to deliver grain even if they’re busy with seeding and their trucks and augers are otherwise deployed. 


A significant amount of grain is still housed in bags or in temporary storage, and producers will be anxious to capitalize on any movement that materializes. With shipments so dismal through the winter, many producers are stuck with moving bagged grain into bins rather than to terminals. In some cases, grain is being re-bagged. 


Juggling grain to preserve quality takes time away from seeding preparations.


Some producers have all their planting seed ready and in place, but in many other instances, seed still needs to be cleaned or bought and then delivered. 


There will be some significant acreage shifts this spring with more field peas, lentils, flax and soybeans, which means more time spent tracking down seed supplies. Securing seed will continue right up until the time it goes into the ground.


On the positive side, the risk of flooding does not appear to be widespread, so producers may be spared the agony of waiting helplessly for fields to dry. As well, there isn’t any significant amount of crop left out from last fall that needs to be combined before seeding.


Still, this spring’s extra tasks could become worrisome when added to all the usual complicating factors. For instance, many producers will have new or new-to-them equipment that has to be moved to the farm and checked out before use. 


This might be a tractor or an air drill bought from a dealer or spring auction sales. Or it might be a smaller purchase, such as a new seed treater or a chem handler. Either way, it will take some time to figure out.


In this interconnected world of instant communications and just-in-time everything, producers find themselves reliant on all the other links in the supply chain. 


Seeding progress can suffer when something goes wrong, whether it’s the global positioning system, the supply of diesel fuel, employee issues or the availability of crop protection products.


Farms are getting larger and each seeding unit is covering more ground. Time is always in short supply. This spring, watch out for unusual snags that could impede progress.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.