Bins - Hopes Unfulfilled

FTLComm - Tisdale - Thursday, December 6, 2001
This morning this new bin was being loaded up and transported to a farm in the area. I asked one farmer about it and he laughed and said it must be someone with a tax problem because he certainly had no problem with storage this past year.

Each year businesses in Nipawin, Tisdale and Melfort assemble the year's crop of bins. They do this as soon as spring arrives so they have to consider what they expect the market to be. The Tisdale Beeland Co-op was conservative this year and have sold about half of their crop of bins, while Melfort seems to have sold none whatever, with a forest of them nestled together West of the city.

This long, very long, fall has been as dry as the two previous ones and here in Tisdale we have to go back to mid July to remember any real rainfall. There have been a few showers but each contributed a ten of an inch which soon was whipped away by the sun and wind. Similarly, since the snow began falling off and on in November, the amount has been very small so that the fields are all still easy to drive across with your car. However, today is the first day of sunshine in a long time and the first day where the temperature has been in that -20C zone. The snow is accumulating gradually and it is sitting atop fields that were to dry to freeze, so that when that snow melts it will go directly into the trash cover.

Farmers are so much smarter than when the prairies were last faced with serious water shortages and some of their techniques are definitely successful when you consider they got a crop, albeit small, this year with such a small amount of precipitation Among the techniques they are employing are continuous cropping and using chemicals instead of tilling the soil. They retain a significant amount of trash cover on the fields and leave the stubble as long as possible so that it will catch as much snow as possible. As soon as there is enough snow in the fields, farmers are out plowing wind rows across the fields to catch even more snow.

The big question is, can we see over the horizon (the picture below was taken just before sunrise this morning North of town, from a stubble field)? What can farmers expect for the coming year and will things be okay.

The shift in climatic conditions is gradual and unrelenting we have to assume that plus or minus 10% is all that can be expected in terms of moisture and temperature. The pattern of the last two years remains in place for this year with only modest variations from one area to another so it is likely that because the water table is so low, that no matter how much snow we receive, there will be little, if any, run off in this part of Saskatchewan in the spring.

Things do not look good for the cattleman as feed conditions will remain tight, but the market glut which has pushed live animal prices to remarkable lows, will not last much longer as the large numbers of animals on the market will decline as we near spring. Export of beef is likely to improve somewhat as Japan is in a situation where they may have to wipe out their entire population of cattle because of the arrival of Mad Cow disease.

Grain prices are expected to improve even in the short term as the price of petroleum has fallen so much there is a chance that some of Canada's traditional export markets may once again resume buying. U.S., Australian and Argentinean stocks of grain are not high and everything will depend upon demand. The ridiculously low Canadian dollar continues to make Canadian production a bargain worldwide, even with the amount of European and American internal subsidies.

But what about growing conditions? Essentially the North Central grain farmer is looking at similar conditions to seeding time in 2001. There will be water in the soil to produce germination, spring seeding can be expected to be early much the same as it was last year and everything will depend on rain in late May and June. You will recall that there was very substantial snow cover in the Saskatchewan Southeast that delayed seeding, but the summer drought in that same area has exhausted their water table so that it is about the same from Prince Albert to Moosomin. The success story of 2001 was in Western Manitoba and the Northeast of Saskatchewan. Porcupine to Hudson Bay farmers had smiles after harvest as did those in the LeRoss to Yorkton area. This Eastern zone received just the right amount of moisture when they needed it and the results was excellent.

The hard part is will this pattern hold or shift? Just a minor movement in summer air masses could make enormous differences. The abundance in growth from Dauphin to Gimli in Manitoba produce huge amounts of hay while desert conditions from Calgary to Swift Current resulted in a dust bowl. No one can at this point give you any reasonable guesses because the engine that produces this weather is deep in the equatorial area of the Pacific Ocean. Right now it looks pretty much like it did last year but really minor changes have enormous consequences as we here in the North Central grain belt are on the margin. That line of moisture is between Tisdale and Porcupine plain, dry to the West, wet to the East. Just a little difference in ocean currents could see the dampness shift West or further East. The odds are that it will shift West rather than East as we are likely to be on the down side of the weather cycle and if that's the case 2002 could see the bumper crop of 2000, but if we are still on the upward side of that trend, the crop situation of Rosetown and Biggar will be over near Humboldt and Melfort and the grass will be brown.

Timothy W. Shire