Prairie farmers assessing their losses

Saskatchewan grain producer Jeff Simpson has one word to describe the 2016 growing season and the harvest situation that many of the province’s farmers are now facing.

“It’s devastating,” said Simpson, a board member with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

“There are individual farmers out there with thousands of acres still out, I mean, mind-boggling amounts.

“Barring something that I’m unaware of from years and years and years ago, this is probably the biggest disaster (to hit the province’s farmers) at this time of year.”

Harvest progress across most if not all of Western Canada has ground to a halt during the past two weeks.

Recurring rain, snow, overcast skies and cool daytime temperatures have forced farmers to park their machines and given them plenty of time to assess their situations and tally potential losses.

For many, the synopsis isn’t pretty.

Simpson, who farms near Ruthilda, Sask., about 180 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon, said many growers in his area still have two-thirds of their crop still in the field.

He said the harvest of 2016 could be the last straw for some growers, the factor that ultimately decides whether it’s time to throw in the towel and begin looking for another career.

“I think this could be a decision-maker for a lot of farmers,” said Simpson, who is considering his own options outside of farming.

“It’s extremely hard to protect yourself against situations like this. The safety nets, as far as I’m concerned, weren’t designed for situations like this. These are one in 50 or one in 75 year events. You just can’t cover yourself.”

Some growers are in better shape than others, but almost all farmers across the West will feel the impact of this year’s damp and messy harvest.

Saskatchewan producers had five to six million acres left to harvest as of late last week, including 2.5 million acres of canola, 1.5 million acres of wheat and 1.25 million acres of durum.

Last week, ag markets analyst Larry Weber from Weber Commodities Ltd. pegged the value of unharvested grain and oilseeds at approximately $2 billion in Saskatchewan and $1.6 billion in Alberta.

The value of unharvested crops in Manitoba could conceivably put the prairie-wide value of unharvested farm commodities at $4 to $5 billion.

Financial risks that big will have repercussions well beyond the farming community, said Simpson.

The farm input, manufacturing, service and retail sectors of Western Canada will also be affected, barring a significant change in weather patterns between now and the end of the year.

Simpson said the entire industry, including farm groups, ag lenders, governments and grain handlers, needs to sit down together to discuss strategies for managing through what he described as a potentially ruinous situation facing hundreds of farmers.

“I just hope we have some major co-operation between not just grain handlers but with governments and with financial institutions … because we don’t want a real collapse in our industry,” he said. “Everybody needs to sit down as an industry and have a chat, right away.”

Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said the province recognizes that many farmers are facing a tough and stressful situation. However, the province has no intention of providing ad hoc or emergency financial support.

“As far as ad hoc programs, there won’t be any,” Stewart said Oct. 14.

“In some areas, this is quite serious, there’s no question about it, but we’re not going back to ad hoc programs, regardless. That’s the way it is and that’s what we’ve said now for nearly 10 years.”

Stewart said provincial crop insurance and other existing safety net programs that are already in place are designed to provide protection to growers who have unexpectedly low farm incomes, annual production losses or crops left in the field over winter.

He reminded Saskatchewan growers to report production and unharvested acres before the Nov. 15 crop insurance deadline.

Stewart said he has heard estimates that the value of unharvested grain and oilseeds in Saskatchewan could be worth as much as $2 billion.

“I’d say that might be true, if we don’t get any more combined, but I’m still expecting a couple or three weeks of pretty decent weather in here some place.”

Simpson said even if hard-luck growers are able to muddle their way through the winter, many will be starting 2017 behind the eight ball, both financially and in terms of unfinished workload.

“We might be in a disaster situation here that rolls into spring and creates even another problem where you’re trying to combine vast amounts of acres in the spring and then you’re supposed to turn around and seed it all,” he said.

“There are vast amounts of unharvested material out there and sooner or later, it will all have to managed with a combine.

“Right now, there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars worth of commodities sitting out there … and based on what I’m looking at right now, I can’t see any way that we’re going to get anything else off — at least not in this area.”

APAS president Norm Hall said growers who have a significant portion of their crop still in the field could be facing difficult decisions.

“I’ve talked with some producers who have 25 percent of their crop in the bin and they have a lot of financial commitments to adhere to,” Hall said.

“For those individuals, it’s going to be devastating.”

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