Its all about weather and machines

FTLComm - Regina - Friday, September 16, 2005

Agriculture is a mystery, not just to we who observe it with interest but I suspect it is pretty much a mystery to those who practice this strange and consuming profession. To operate a multi-million dollar business demands that today's farmer must have a college education and even then it is no sure thing when it comes to operations.

To be viable a modern Canadian farm needs to be cropping about 3,000 acres of land and on a good year he will provide for his family and on a bad year it will require every trick in the book and then some to cope with bills that can not be paid.

2005 was looking like a very good year. Huge yields were expected and though rain had been plentiful the

crop had a good chance of being outstanding. But the plentiful rain that filled the fields with great crops became a curse as crops due to be harvested stand in fields to wet to navigate with farm equipment.

Barley in the Weekes and Tisdale area is almost a total loss as it has begun to sprout. Canola is in a similar state in many fields and wheat has fallen in quality to number 3 with farmers praying that it will not slip even further into feed which was the harvest of last year.

The massive capital investment needed to support a farm operation is hard to fathom as it involves grain storage, grain handling equipment, driers and machines like you see here just to move the stuff around let alone move it to market which has now gone almost entirely to commercial trucking.

The sodden fields of this harvest season have forced farmers to find other ways to move the product from the combine and farmers have had to invest in additional trucks and because of the wet conditions huge grain tanks towed by tractor through fields that would mire down the usual truck systems used.

But the mystery persists. The alure of possible success, the quest to find new ways to turn total loss into a break even state, the never ending struggle to get the right

combination of both equipment and maintenance facilities while working out strategies that will keep working equipment available without being savaged by debt. Most folks figured out long ago that the odds of winning in this complex process are just to great to overcome the mounting difficulties like fuel prices that suddenly rise 20% with no possibility of passing on that added cost to the finished marketable product.

With this harvest a marketable product is really slipping out of reach altogether.

Each year the cost of production rises and almost as certain the value of production either declines or remains frozen at values seen decades ago. Greater efficiency and economy of scale are not elastic but can only produce a margin of increased profittability.

In this picture a new wet field proof grain tank is ready to go into service and notice the coiled cable on the front of the tractor needed to extract swather and combine from mire on a daily basis. All of this frantic activity to harvest a crop that at this point if taken off the field and sold will not likely balance the cost of production this year. Only breaking even would be remarkable achievement for this year and without profit where does the money come from to keep up payments on machinery that must be replaced on a regular basis or it will cease to be able to function.

You see it is a mystery. Society and our political leaders are oblivous to the struggle that faces agriculture while at the same time the future of all life depends on agricultural success and ultimately the production of

fuels right from the fields.

The monumental issues of market and commodity pricing need not even be considered when the real issue year after year is weather and secondly maintaining and having available the machines to efficienlty allow the industry to function. That swather at the top of the page had seven complex repairs carried out on it, just routine stuff like drive bearings and belt replacement but in a mechanised industry the machines come second to the weather in the list of demands.

But, they keep on, struggling with the challenge and sometimes they take in a modest profit but even with science, education and good equipment the odds are stacked solidly in favour of the environment calling the tune and determining the outcome.

Timothy W. Shire


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
Faster Than Light Communication
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306 873 2004