Crops worth billions of dollars remain in the field as we head into November. Even producers who managed to finish harvest likely had at least some of their production downgraded by wet harvest weather. And many producers face huge grain drying costs.
All this comes on top of mediocre prices for many commodities exacerbated by trade issues with a number of major trading partners. It has certainly been a difficult year for prairie grain farmers, but amidst the gloom and doom, we shouldn’t lose sight of the positives.
On the macro-economic front, interest rates remain low and the value of the Canadian dollar hasn’t spiked. There’s long been fear that one or both would rise, further squeezing farm margins. It will likely happen someday, but it doesn’t seem imminent.
Despite the difficult growing season, overall yields are close to long-term averages and some regions had excellent yields. Where yields were poor, crop insurance will provide support. Crop insurance quality factors will also help to compensate for downgrading.
Relying on crop insurance is certainly no formula for success, but it’s an important safety net for unfavourable growing conditions. It’ll be interesting to find out the total payments in each of the three prairie provinces.
With abundant fall precipitation, some regions are worried about battling wet conditions for seeding in the spring. However, the rain and even wet snow have improved next year’s outlook over a large area that was dry for much of 2019.
For crops still to be harvested, all is not lost. In past years, a significant amount of harvest has sometimes been accomplished in November. Results vary for crop that stays out all winter, but at least crop harvested in the spring might not require drying.
A few bright spots have materialized in crop prices. Although a large percentage of the flax crop remains in the field, for those with flax in the bin, the price is pretty good. Anyone with good quality durum either from this year or carried over from previous years will be rewarded. In pulse crops, some improvement from harvest lows has materialized.
Grain movement has been good. The railways seem to be easily keeping up with shipping demand. There will certainly be a range of grades from which to service different customers.
Trade issues no longer seem quite so dire. Italy has been back in the market for Canadian durum, quite a few lentils are moving to India despite high tariffs and some Canadian canola is getting into China. For canola, we need to be thankful for the strong domestic crushing industry that provides a market for roughly half the crop.
Coming in the midst of the difficult harvest, results from the federal election were a disappointment for most farmers, who are less than enamored with the thought of more time under a Justin Trudeau Liberal government. However, with the Liberals shut out in Alberta and Saskatchewan, a strong message has been sent to Ottawa.
It’s rare in Canadian history for a first-term majority government to be ousted in the very next election. While reduced to a minority, the Liberals have a solid enough minority that at least the third and fourth place parties won’t drive the agenda.
After a seemingly endless harvest battle, some fatigue and depression have to be expected. Motivational speakers will tell you that attitude is altitude and while this is cliché, it also has a ring of truth.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.