Melfort and the Challenge of Slim

FTLComm - Melfort - February 14, 2001
Though we don't really talk about the agricultural downturn in income as a recession it really is historically the kind of situation that preceded the drought that is referred to as the dirty thirties. Farm incomes are proportionately lower that at anytime during most of our lifetimes and rural depopulation is running at about the same level as occurred in 1934. The reason we have all shrugged off this recession is that is primarily affects only the rural agricultural economy.

Communities like Tisdale with its manufacturing and Nipawin with its tourist industry still feel the impact of low farm incomes but they are getting by. Melfort, Swift Current, Maple Creek, Kindersley and dozens of other Saskatchewan communities are focused on supporting the agricultural world around them and we need to consider how they are coping. Tisdale now has four vacant stores on its main street whereas a year ago there were none. Nipawin has a larger number and has the look of a town that is losing it.

Melfort looks like things are very tight. There are a large number of empty storefronts and the Melfort mall which has been a very positive market in the past is definitely declining with closed businesses. One bright light in the Melfort mall is the SAAN story which has taken over the former Met floor space and is looking like a viable retail store with almost all departments covered.

Where the crunch really seems to come is where farmers traditionally spend their money on operational expenses and we have seen how they are cautious and doing their best to make do with what they have. Farm implement dealers in Saskatchewan are in dire straights and the farmers perhaps even more so because everyone knows those old machines will only run so long and they must be replaced.

The picture below caught my eye as it tells the tale of grain bins, each year the various dealers in these things set up new ones to market in the harvest season, this is a considerable carry over from last year.

The tense conditions are stressful as merchants and retailers of all kinds have to just follow the lead of the successful farmers, hang on, and hang on and hang on.