Its more than yields and input costs

FTLComm - Weekes - Sunday, August 18, 2002
This past week of showers and low temperatures have stalled the head long rush into harvest. Saturday evening we visited a large farm East of Weekes and these pictures tell the story.

The crop, if there is a crop, of 2002 is going to be talked about for many years to come. First ,everyone will remember the remarkable adversity during the growing season, from the amazing lack of snow, the prolonged cold spring, the complete lack of rainfall, then the furnace temperatures followed by cold weather, then when the crop was all but totally ruined, rain that confounded the development in the fields and is preventing harvest.

There is a crop out in the fields East of Weekes, not a great crop, but there is something to harvest. One farmer ended the growth of his peas with a descant almost two weeks ago and the damp conditions and the very short crop have combined to see the peas starting to sprout and that crop has been ruined.

Poor hay conditions have been further troubled by the rainfall as fields cut and awaiting baling have begun to decompose.

There is no doubt about 2002 being an unusual and definitely unforgettable crop year. Here in late August there are Canola crops in full bloom as they had been planted but only now have begun to develop while nearby there are Canola crops ready for combining.

The crop reports from the United States indicate that they are expecting a 10% decline in production this year and already commodity markets are reacting to that news as all prices are moving steadily upward. Canola which was below $7 this time last year is being quoted at $9.75 for November futures while wheat, barley and oats all in short supply, are moving upward in value. Farmers with last year or even earlier, grain in the bin, are wearing much wider grins.

To often we hear politicians and farmers themselves discuss the role of agriculture in terms of its dollar return on investment and the staggering economics of what has become, industrial agriculture.

These pictures show the on farm storage for this operation. A pair of brothers and their two wives handle about 3,200 acres of planted crops each year. They had at one time run a modest hog operation and for a while had a small herd of cattle, but now concentrate exclusively on grain production.

They, like so many other farmers, no longer have nearby railways, or elevators to purchase their production, and now ship most of their crop themselves with producer cars. (above) their grain drying facility can be operated by any member of the family and allows them to deal with the variations in harvest conditions.

Last year's harvest was their best ever and this year they will not be filling all of these bins. However, these are collage educated farmers who know what they are doing and each

year they add to their storage capacity as it gives them the buffer that relieves them of being at the mercy of the market or grain companies when their crop is coming off the field. So a new bin has just been assembled to join the others and because of expected reduced yields this year they are only adding one instead of the two they had planned.

But look closely at these pictures and you will see they tell another story. A story that can not be written down in numbers in a ledger or assembled on a bank statement. What do you see?

The images here show exactly what it is like in this farm yard in the middle of August. These surroundings are what they spend each day working in, this is their world. Certainly, they risk financially more than a hundred thousand dollars just to put in their crop and their total investment is in seven figure numbers. But it is what you see that makes all this worth the price.

These highly skilled agricultural entrepreneurs are also people who live in an environment that is the stuff of dreams. They and their friends live good lives filled with adventure and quality, quality that they and this writer have problems expressing, but in these pictures there is a hint of what it is all about.

A mile and half away is a massive hog barn nearing completion and another three miles South being built. They see these developments as markets for the production on their land, production that cost about $75,000 a year just to haul to market. By marketing it a mile away or shipping it in producer cars they are cutting that cost down and increasing ever so slightly, their margin of profit.

But having talked to these and other farmers, profit is something big city bankers and corporate big mouths talk about. Mostly, they are just satisfied and happy to make ends meet, cover their costs, build equity in their land and meet the payments on the million dollars worth of equipment that is needed to work this land. In the end, the wonder and beauty of living on their own place is all they are after.

Now, while we can appreciate their life style, we had better also serious consider the massive contribution this group of people make to the country's economy. Three times as many people live and work in Toronto as live in Saskatchewan, while Saskatchewan's farmers are just a tiny fraction of its total population, but they contribute 10% to the gross national product of this country because what they make is real in terms of a marketable product. It is sold and the direct benefit of this production contributes mightily to the viability of this country.

You have been told this before, but must think it through and that though this year is the worst drought in 120 years, yet when the fields are cleaned up, farmers and their amazingly efficient production practices will have produced a crop. Oh, it will be a small crop, but many will cover their costs.

In the area from West of Melfort and into Alberta the situation is considerably more depressing as the drought is completely unforgiving to their part of the world and with this year gone they will look to next year because this one is already history.