Dried-up crops hurt both your pocketbook and your self-esteem, but what I find particularly irksome is when some armchair quarterback says it’s all because of climate change.
Yes, a number of temperature records have been broken. Yes, it’s been abnormally dry in many areas. Yes, there are fields that won’t see a combine. Guess what, we’ve seen in it all before. Droughts have been a threat since the first European settlers arrived and natural evidence points to severe droughts in the centuries before that.
Let’s skip back to 1988, well before the obsession with climate change was mainstream. There was virtually no soil moisture that spring and it refused to rain. Temperatures peaked around 40 C in early June. Crop emergence was spotty at best and what did germinate fried in the heat.
Those were the days when the common crop rotation was wheat, fallow, wheat or in my corner of the province durum, fallow, durum. Pulse crops were a rarity. Weeds in the summerfallow were controlled with tillage, not herbicides.
To grow a decent crop, the theory was that you had to save up moisture from the summerfallow year. Growing a crop on stubble was usually a formula for disaster.
In 1988, despite all the durum being grown on summerfallow, our fields averaged nine bushels an acre. It was an ugly year, but droughts were accepted as part of prairie agriculture, particularly in the Palliser Triangle.
The old timers told stories about the droughts of the Dirty Thirties and 1961 stood out as another year with dried-out, miserable crops. In more recent times, 2001 and 2002 were years for dried-out crops in some regions.
While we don’t like it, this is not a new occurrence. Weather conditions won’t always be favourable. The crop won’t always be good. Crops are also lost to hail, frost and flooding.
Overall, Western Canada has had an amazing run of good crops. The long-term trend has been better yields and more total production, and that trend is expected to continue.
During all those years with relatively good growing conditions, the armchair quarterbacks never said it was due to climate change. Only when conditions are poor does climate change become the reason.
It has become unethical to challenge climate change theory. In some quarters it’s akin to a hate crime. In reality, climate has always changed. The important questions revolve around how much is manmade and whether carbon taxation and carbon offsets will change the trajectory. How much can countries like Canada do when China keeps building coal-fired power plants?
Discussion and debate is scarcely allowed because people in the cities are fed a steady stream of stories about wildfires and crop damaging droughts. Climate change has become the reason for every weather event.
Next year, if prairie production bounces back and we grow a record crop, will that be because of climate change or despite climate change? Mostly, it will probably be ignored because it doesn’t match the narrative.
The growing season of 2021 has not been kind, but we’ve seen worse. I can accept the reality of a poor crop; it’s going to happen from time to time. But spare me the climate change lecture.
I don’t know of anyone giving up on farming because of climate change. For any farmer with that attitude, there’s no shortage of other producers anxious to buy the land at record high prices.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.