Tough harvest ahead for some on the Prairies

SASKATOON — Good weather, good luck and a good deal of patience.

Those are some things Western Canada’s farmers need if they have any hope of bringing in this year’s crop before winter sets in.

A good relationship with lenders might also come in handy.

Between showers, flurries, overcast skies and single digit temperatures, prairie growers managed to squeeze in a little more harvest work last week, taking some of the sting off what’s shaping up to be a frustrating season.

But progress has been slow and there’s still plenty of tough slogging ahead.

And as farmers in the northern grain belt know, ideal harvest weather is never assured in the month of October.

On a cool and cloudy afternoon, Kurtis Gaudet and his crews were grinding through tough canola on the Gaudet farm near Hoey, Sask., last week.

Gaudet said combines on his family’s farm sat idle for 17 straight days in September, the month when the majority of prairie acres are normally harvested.

“It’s always a bit of a battle when you get toward the end of September but that 17-day delay really stretched things out a bit longer than usual,” Gaudet said.

“And unfortunately, the forecast isn’t looking that great either.”

“There’s a reason why not everyone farms in this world,” he added.

“You’ve got to have lots of patience and you’ve got to be able to handle some pretty difficult situations, especially farming in northern Saskatchewan.”

Compared to many, the Gaudets were in reasonably good shape last week, despite less-than-ideal conditions.

According to Kurtis, the family had harvested about 60 percent of their acres as of Sept. 27, including all of their cereals.

The Gaudets had about 4,000 acres of canola left to harvest as of late last week.

“Ideally, we could use a couple of weeks of warm, dry weather,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be 25 C or anything like that but we could use reasonably warm temperatures, 10C or higher, and no more rain.”

Gaudet said nearly all of the cereals harvested in the Hoey area came off tough, with moisture content in the high teens or low 20s.

Growers with on-farm drying systems had a step up on other farmers.

Those without dryers are even further behind and are now depending on commercial drying capacity, a service that takes another bite out of already narrow margins.

Quality is another cost factor.

It is widely assumed that any cereals taken off in late September or October will be bought at a significant discount, and likely destined for feed markets.

For most growers, harvesting dry grain is no longer considered an option, Gaudet added.

“At this point, as long as combines can grind through the material, people will be taking what they can,” he said.

Farmers across the northern grain belt are facing similar scenarios, although for some, the situation is bordering on disaster.

In more northerly pockets of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, harvest progress is still stalled at well below 50 percent complete, suggesting that billions of dollars worth of grain, pulses and oilseeds are in danger of spending months in the field.

In Saskatchewan’s northern crop districts, harvest progress was stalled at around 30 to 40 percent complete as of last week.

In some parts of northern Alberta, growers had only begun to bring in their crops as of late last week.

Daryl Fransoo, who farms near Glaslyn in northwestern Saskatchewan, said growers in his area are already desperate.

On Fransoo’s farm, about 90 percent of the family’s 5,600-seeded acres were still in the field as of Sept. 27.

“Any grain we’ve managed to take off in the last couple of days has been really tough and everything’s going through the dryer … which costs more money and more time,” said Fransoo.

“The worst part about it is that we’ve had a few snowfalls already, so all the crops are laying down flat and it’s hindering progress that much more.”

“It’s a tough grind, for sure. You’re going half the speed you’d normally go and you’re sitting on pins and needles all day. But it’s the time of year where you go whenever you can go.”

“If you can get 50 acres a day, you get 50 acres a day. If you can’t get any, you can’t get any.”

Fransoo said nearly every bushel of grain taken so far in his area has come off tough, with wheat in the range of 20 to 22 percent moisture.

Even peas — typically taken before anything else — are still in the field.

With the prolonged harvest of 2016 still fresh in their minds, some growers in the area are feeling the mental and financial pressure of yet another spoiled harvest, Fransoo added.

A two-week stretch of clear, sunny weather would go a long way toward addressing farmers’ anxieties, he said.

But at this time of year, “it’s really hard to put confidence in any forecast that you see.”

“There’s some people that are pretty down in the dumps right now…,” Fransoo said.

“You need a lot of money to operate a farm nowadays. The input costs are so high and there’s such high risk. There’s going to be some people that will probably go under if this crop doesn’t come off.”

With the Thanksgiving weekend just around the corner, Fransoo urged farmers to look out for one another and help out where they can.

“If you know someone who’s struggling, go talk to them or listen to them. Lend your ears or lend a hand if you can.”

“Just be kind to people at this time of year because there’s a lot of stress going on in people’s lives right now, especially if you’re a farmer.”

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