There’s no law in averages

After a stop and go April seeding window for many producers across the Prairies and northern Great Plains, the season seems to have settled down when it comes to hard frosts and cold soils.

The month opened up with what appeared to be a trend that would put grain farmers in southern regions into their fields weeks ahead of average, provided some drying could take place. It didn’t happen. However, there is now a chance to get things rolling for many growers and put them close to average when it comes to seeded acres by mid-May.

If your farm is soggy and there is crop still to harvest to satisfy crop insurance providers, you won’t feel like you are part of the average. Averages are made of data. While the data doesn’t lie, averages do the closer one gets to them.

On May 10 we will start hearing a lot of averages in Canadian agriculture. You will read plenty about them in The Western Producer.

The Canadian Census of Agriculture is coming out. For me it will be ground-truthing of my assumptions and projections about what has changed in Canadian agriculture over the past five years.

Federal and provincial governments will craft agricultural programs around the data. Lenders will use it to make investment-banking decisions. Machinery and farm inputs dealers will use it to help plot their corporate courses. You, as primary producers, will compare where you are on the scale of operations and profitability to farms like yours.

But no two farms are the same. It’s sort of like relying on a neighbour’s soil test. Despite both growing a good crop of canola last year, everything else that came before was different, so the soils are unique.

My guess — and we can check it in a week — is that farming units will have grown their operational sizes dramatically since the last census in 2011, while individual operators, usually structured as a couple, will too, but not as radically. This will be for the same reasons that the rate of increase in the age of a western grain farmer will have slowed: consolidation into larger family farms, retirements and new entrants. Livestock producers will have gotten older. Profitability will have improved for both.

This census will tell us all many things. But when it comes to your farm, it will be like the view from the highway at 100 km-h because every field has its own history.

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