It’s not an epidemic drought, despite reports

People not directly connected to agriculture could rightly assume, based on everything they read and hear, that much of the Prairies has been crippled by drought. On top of that, grain prices are poor and farmers are suffering from mental illness caused by financial stress.

In this world of instant communication and social media, we sometimes need a reality check and bit of long-term perspective.

It may have been the driest July on record at a number of locations in southern Saskatchewan, but it certainly won’t be the worst crop ever. Not even close. There are some crop failures and there will be crop insurance claims, but the severity is nothing like the drought years of 1988 and 2002.

Looking at selective weather stats doesn’t tell the whole story. An abundance of subsoil moisture has prevented a widespread crop failure.

Sure, many crops in the south will have below-average yields, but some crops, especially early seeded ones, are yielding well.

We’ve become accustomed to an abundance of rain and big-yielding crops in many areas that are traditionally drought prone. This year is just closer to the long-term normal.

With good crops in many central regions and some excellent crops in the northern grain belt, overall production in Western Canada will be respectable. And early indications point to excellent quality.

In the durum growing region, many growers last year had yields of 50 plus bushels per acre, but the sample was a Number 5 or worse due to fusarium. The crop was only marketable at a steep price discount. This year, many of those same growers might get only 25 to 35 bu. per acre, but the grade might be Number 1 or 2, leaving them with a much better overall result.

Wheat and durum prices have declined in the past month after the main drought panic subsided, but most grains, oilseeds, pulses and specialty crops have decent values. Even though the Canadian dollar has appreciated in value, the exchange rate continues to shield us from the grain price pain felt by farmers in the U.S.

In recent months, an uptick in calls has been noted to Saskatchewan’s Farm Stress Line. Farming is a stressful business and mental health is an issue to take seriously. However, the stressors within agriculture are not at a particularly high level compared to past years.

It wasn’t long ago when producers faced flooded fields, millions of unseeded acres, and equipment stuck in the muck. Just last year, a record amount of crop couldn’t be harvested before winter set in.

Each year comes with its unique problems and often they are different from one region to the next. While drought in the south has received most of the attention this year, there are parts of the northern grain belt where too much moisture has reduced seeded acres.

There is seldom a farming year when conditions couldn’t have been better. Conversely, there is seldom a year when conditions couldn’t have been worse.

Some years will see below average yields. Sometimes there will be an absolute crop failure. Inherently, we know this so we shouldn’t be surprised by the curve balls thrown by Mother Nature.

We can’t control the weather, but we can control our attitudes. As the combines roll, it can be helpful to look on the bright side rather than dwell on what might have been.

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