Being prepared is key to successful risk management

I was in a hall with more than 100 farmers and nobody was panicking.

That was even though these Red River Valley farmers had almost no fall field work done, almost no fertilizer down, many will be facing deep ruts and all will be trying to put a crop into fields that are saturated.

On top of that, they’re likely to face a flood coming at them from upstream in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Plus, getting all the fertilizer a farmer needs this spring might be impossible with every other farmer in the area needing the same thing.

Yet the mood at St. Jean Farm Days in southeastern Manitoba was relaxed rather than anxious. They were aware of the challenges, but seemed ready to face them.

I asked Brunel Sabourin, who operates a local agronomy outfit in St. Jean Baptiste, why farmers were so at ease with what could appear to be a dire situation.

“We’re prepared,” Sabourin told me about the farmers in this area that sits at the bottom of the Red River Valley.

“They have extra capacity.”

Farmers around this small town have learned to be prepared for late and rushed spring seeding because of regular floods and spring saturation in the past.

While farmers in many areas just have one line of equipment, around this area farmers often have two or more, hanging on to old equipment to be able to go far beyond 100 percent of normal capacity if the time window begins closing.

They have seeders, planters, heavy harrows and tillage equipment that give them various options for approaching field situations. They add and remove options from their equipment as they need.

They’re used to having to come up with Plan A, Plan B and Plan C for seeding long before the snow has melted and they’re ready to go farming. They’ve needed those plans in the past.

Across the Prairies, farmers have learned to do this, but for different parts of the season. This small part of eastern Manitoba has built extra capacity to deal with late springs, saturated soils, heavy crop residue and snow-covered corn and sunflower harvests. Other regions have developed capacity for coaxing crops through droughts, early falls and scorching heat. No farmer is without a toolbox of equipment to deal with their most common challenges.

But this year will likely confront many producers with spring work/fertilizer/seeding challenges they haven’t dealt with too often before. Everybody has seen late springs, but the combination and widespread nature of the challenges feels unique this time.

Some of the best risk management advice I heard in St. Jean had nothing to do with prices and everything to do with availability: try to lock down fertilizer supplies now.

Not only are prices good, but most dealers in many areas don’t carry enough storage capacity to have enough on-site for spring.

If you’re already facing a compressed or vexatious seeding season, not being able to get fertilizer is the last thing a farmer needs.

Beyond that, it’s worth the effort for all farmers to be coming up with plans A, B, C and D for the spring.

Assuming that everything will be OK and the crop will get in fine is a good Plan A, but it’s worth having the other plans for (more likely?) outcomes.

Becoming fearful and anxious about the situation isn’t productive. Worry is not preparation.

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