Letters to the editor – November 16, 2017

Wrong wheat numbers

Because there’s no Canadian Wheat Board, Canada’s wheat prices are the worst they’ve been in 100 years.

That’s the argument in National Farmers Union board member Edward Sagan’s letter “Lament Loss of CWB,” in the Nov. 9 Western Producer.

As a trained economist, respected grain markets analyst, and a member of a Saskatchewan family who’s grown wheat for more than 100 years, I disagree completely and find Sagan’s argument is incredibly misleading.

I’ll assume that the 11 percent protein wheat Sagan is selling for $4.23 per bu. is CPS wheat. He claims that the export price for this wheat is $9.44 per bu. out of Vancouver.

The spot price for 11.5 percent protein CPS wheat around Melville, Sask., where Sagan farms, is $4.50 per bu. According to the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission’s website, the West Coast port price for that same CPS, 11.5 percent protein wheat is $6.80, not $9.44 like Sagan suggests.

In fact, Sagan seems to be referring to the West Coast port price of Canadian Hard Red Spring Wheat, valued at the exact same $9.44 per bu. That wheat is sold on a 13.5 percent protein basis though. Not 11 percent, like Sagan’s wheat. Quite misleading.

Further, the spot price for CWRS wheat around Melville is closer to $6.90, or about 73 percent of the port price. Sagan claims the Canadian farmer is getting just 40 percent. Again, misleading.

Comparing prices of two different types of wheat isn’t as bad though as comparing them to six years ago.

In 2012, global wheat production was 659 million tonnes and prices were good. That year was the lowest output since record wheat prices of 2008.

Since then, global wheat production has grown by an average of nearly three percent per year. Each year we’ve seen a new record, including last year’s 754 million tonnes.

Only this year, in 2017-18, has the pace slowed, to 751 million.

Moreover, global wheat supplies by the end of 2017-18 will be more than 268 million tonnes.

Doing some “Sagan Math”, that’s a 51 percent hike from his cherry-picked benchmark of six years ago.

Sagan is correct on one thing: wheat production margins for Canadian farmers have declined substantially in the last six years.

However, he needs to check his math before thanking the government for lower prices; the blame falls on his fellow wheat farmers around the world.

Brennan Turner
President & CEO

Water data needed

Re: Manitoba hog barn moratorium inches toward elimination, (WP, Nov. 2, 2017).

Unfortunately, reporter Ed White did not reach out to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation for comment before his article on Bill 24 went to press. We would have been happy to provide the following clarifications.

White acknowledges LWF’s concern that “not enough about hog manure and water pollution is known to justify lifting the restrictions.”

He then adds: “However, (LWF) did not provide evidence that the hog industry is a significant cause of the lake’s problems.”

We did not provide evidence because none exists. Indeed, this is exactly our concern.

Currently, no one knows how much phosphorus Manitoba’s hog industry is contributing to Lake Winnipeg.

This is because no one is actually measuring phosphorus runoff from manure spread fields. There is currently no water-quality monitoring program designed to evaluate the effectiveness of manure-management plans at preventing phosphorus losses into provincial waterways.

Instead, we’re left to guess about the hog industry’s impact on water quality in Manitoba.

Don Flaten, an esteemed local soil scientist, has previously estimated that hog manure contributes less than one percent of the phosphorus that reaches Lake Winnipeg.

This estimate has since been quoted extensively (including by White in his article).

But Flaten’s estimate is just that: a rough estimate based on substantial assumptions — not based on up-to-date, real-world water-quality data.

We need to do better than a rough estimate if we’re actually serious about building a sustainable hog industry in Manitoba.

Flaten also presented on Bill 24 to the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs.

He noted: “Sustainable nutrient management requires careful use of all forms of nutrients, were they in the form of municipal waste water, livestock manures, synthetic fertilizers and whether those nutrients come from a city, town, cottage, livestock farm or grain farm. We need a comprehensive set of policies based on scientifically sound principles.”

We agree whole-heartedly. Nutrients from all sources need to be carefully managed based on sound scientific evidence — and, where that evidence is lacking, every effort must be made to address the data deficit.

Collecting robust water-quality data about Manitoba’s hog industry is not a hindrance or a hurdle to overcome.

It is a necessary condition to building a sustainable hog industry in our province. 

Alexis Kanu
Executive director,
Lake Winnipeg Foundation
Winnipeg, Man.

Weather still rules

The Western Producer Oct. 12, issue regarding “The Problems of Plenty” I regard as the most informative issue ever.

Yes, modern genetics, agronomy and stockpiling have contributed to huge world stockpiling. Our weather of wetness during nine of the past 10 years was also involved. The years 2011 and 2017 were very dry, however carryover of pervious wet years has helped create abundant yields.

I just have to wonder what will occur to the world stockpile if the “drought” continues for additional years. Even with the stockpile, which is part of the reason for stalled or falling grain prices, farmers are still removing every non-grain plant (grass lines and trees) plus ditching out dry slough or small lake areas. Definitely, stockpile requires more. Prices will fall.

Interesting that the world has such a huge amount of available grain getting larger and the world’s population is increasing, and yet the starving population increases for various reasons.

I began farming 45 years ago. Yields have increased. Not even doubled, expenses have been rising from five to 20 times the amounts then. Farmers rely on acre production.

I have had wheat yields range from zero (10 minute hailstorm) to 65 bushels an acre. Wage earners get an hourly pay with no regard for weather.

Both sectors have income protection devices. I just wonder how a wage earner would feel if a one-year income is destroyed by a 10 minute hai lstorm.

We have had a plethora of moist years. Weather, being as it is, will seriously swing totally in the opposite direction. That is drought. One year I put down the required nutrients, crop, and spray.

Weather conditions dictated a three-bushel-an acre wheat crop, which barely paid for the seed. A few years later, with all the same procedure on my part and a wonderful weather year, that same field yielded 65. Mother nature still rules the world.

Genetics and agronomy, I feel, do not work in a desert.

Delwyn J.J. Jansen
Humboldt, Sask.


  • John Fefchak

    Re: Letter, Water data needed. Thank you Alexis.
    “Currently, no one knows how much phosphorus Manitoba’s hog industry is contributing to Lake Winnipeg”
    In the early years of 2000, I recall the findings of a study stating that approximately 52%
    of phosphorus measured on the Red River at the US/ Manitoba border was the United States contribution. So…96 kilometres further ( 60 Miles ) north the remaining 48 % belongs to the Canadian portion and tributaries that feed the Red River to end at The Forks in Winnipeg. That area of the Red River is generally known as Hog Alley! Nothing conclusive, however, it should not be ignored.

    ‘Don Flaten, an esteemed local soil scientist, has previously estimated that hog manure contributes less than one percent of the phosphorus that reaches Lake Winnipeg”.
    Actually, for all to see…. this is what Don Flaten said in correspondence.
    “Hi Glen .. I have attached a short summary of the calculations that
    Manitoba Pork used to arrive at their estimate of 1%. Please note
    that they have used a series of observations, some of which are from
    our research, to arrive at this estimate … but in the end, although
    agree that their estimate is in the ballpark of reality, it’s their
    estimate, not mine … there are some substantial assumptions in all
    of these estimates … ours, the Government’s, and Manitoba Pork’s.
    Therefore, I don’t think anyone knows exactly how much P is coming
    from which non-point sources.”

    Seems to me, Flaten speaks with with different tongues sometimes; depending on the situation and where he is and who he is addressing; I suppose.
    He knew full well that when the government of Manitoba placed a top regulation
    limit of over 800 lbs. of available phosphorus per acre, he and they were helping the
    hog industry by compensating for the lack of manure spread acres with a ‘license to
    pollute’. Most crops use only 20 lbs. of phosphate a year.
    He was a main player in developing and recommending this regulation to the government. He knew then that industry was unwilling to incur the expense of transporting the manure from areas with too much to areas that could use it in a balanced way. They still don’t.

  • Bruce

    I liked about 90% of your article Delwyn. But a couple of corrections. With a hail storm are you not covered by hail insurance and or crop insurance. So you can always insure your land for the value of the crop. There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers that work outdoors. I have worked in construction. They only get paid for the hours they work. So it rains for two days and is wet a few more days. These workers receive no pay. The same is true of winter snow storms.

  • ed

    “Wrong Wheat Numbers” Yes, there could be some numbers that are not quite correct at any given time in Mr. Sagan’s “Lament Loss of CWB” as it is a moving target now depending on who needs to steal what at any given time. 89-93% of the port price of a recent $9.44/bushel for a 13.5 % protein Canadian HRSW should have returned about $8.50 to the farm gate if a CWB collective were still in place based on decades of data. That is not happening now and that is the gravity of this peice. The $4 Billion dollars of annual missing income for Western Canadian Farmers on wheat acres alone as demonstrated by several economists studies is what is being lamented here. Helping to decide where farmers are placing their deck chairs on the Titanic and determining whether the band is in place and playing while the ship is going down seems to be of greater concern for the President & CEO of Farm(mis)Lead, Brennan Turner. That is not suprising however. What did you think that band was for?


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