Crop report’s credibility rooted in volunteers

Primary agricultural production is a multibillion-dollar industry in Saskatchewan.

So it’s little wonder that that the provincial agriculture department likes to keep close tabs on conditions in the countryside — things like accumulated rainfall, topsoil moisture, seeding progress, crop development and harvest conditions.

That’s why the province has enlisted the help of people like Linda and Gary Osmachenko of Sonningdale, Sask.

For the past 28 years, the Osmachenkos have volunteered as provincial crop reporters, collecting local data and submitting it to the province on a weekly basis.

Weekly updates that are submitted by the Osmachenkos and by other volunteer crop reporters across Saskatchewan serve as the foundation of Saskatchewan Agriculture’s weekly crop report, one of the department’s most important and widely read information products.

The Saskatchewan Crop Report is prepared and distributed weekly and can be viewed online at throughout the growing season.

“We enjoy doing it and it doesn’t take much time at all,” said Linda, who submitted her first report to Saskatchewan Agriculture in the early 1990s.

“It’s very simple. You just keep track of (conditions) in your area and you send in your information every week.

“When we first started, we did everything over the telephone so it took a bit longer and it was a little more difficult, but now you can fax in the information, phone, or do it online so it’s pretty easy.”

The Osmachenkos are part of a province-wide network that includes almost 250 volunteer crop inspectors.

Together, the information that is collected paints an accurate picture of crop conditions throughout the province.

Linda said collecting and submitting the information that’s needed takes as little as five to 10 minutes a week.

Volunteers receive a booklet each year before the growing season starts.

Each page in the booklet contains a few questions related to crop progress, crop staging, moisture conditions, precipitation and other factors relevant to farm productivity.

When the information is submitted to Saskatchewan Agriculture, departmental staff use a computer program that analyzes the data and condenses it into a format that assesses conditions from border to border, across all areas of the province.

Daphne Cruise, a provincial crop extension specialist who helps manage the provincial crop reporting program, said the Saskatchewan Crop Report has a reputation in the industry as being one of the most reliable and accurate sources of agricultural information in the country.

That reputation is largely due to the work of dedicated volunteers, who provide the department with verified, real-time information.

It also helps that the vast majority of volunteer reporters are either farmers themselves or retired producers who know farming and know how to accurately assess conditions, drawing on decades of experience.

“I think the crop report’s credibility comes from our volunteer crop reporters, who are basically boots-on-the ground farmers, retired farmers and in some cases even crop specialists … like agronomists,” Cruise said.

“So, we have a variety of sources that we pull information from, but they’re all familiar with the industry, they’re out in the communities and its real time information that we’re getting.”

In addition to using the information for the weekly Saskatchewan Crop report, there are times when the ministry uses the information supplied by crop reporters to make policy or program management decisions, Cruise added.

During years when excess moisture is a concern, for example, crop reporters are asked to estimate the percentage of unseeded acres in their areas resulting from excess moisture.

Those numbers can be analyzed and used by the provincial agriculture department and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance to make decisions that affect producers.

Interest in the weekly crop report extends beyond the province’s borders, she added.

“We have subscribers from not only all over Canada, but in many other countries, who want to know and are interested in what is happening on farms in Saskatchewan,” Cruise said.

For volunteer reporter Harry McCorriston, collecting and submitting local information has been part of his weekly routine for more than 30 years.

The retired producer from the Tisdale, Sask., area says collecting the information and completing the weekly report is no trouble.

“It’s a pretty good program,” McCorriston said.

“It’s easy to do and it gives you a pretty good perspective on what crops are like throughout the province.”

McCorriston said conditions in northeastern Saskatchewan point to a late start this spring, with seeding operations in his area as much as a week to 10 days behind normal.

Cruise said the first Saskatchewan Crop Report of the 2018 growing season will likely be published in late April or early May, once spring seeding is underway.

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