Good Riddance 2004

Agriculture, Commentary, Robert Sopuck, Rural, Uncategorized

I was chatting with a farmer friend, and of course he had nothing good to say about the growing season of 2004. But then he brightened and said, “Maybe I can make a buck or two selling T-shirts to the farmers who pulled through this year. They could say, ‘I survived 2004.’”

Gotta love those farmers! Even when it’s tough, they still manage a joke or two. They live in “next year country,” for sure! The 2004 farm economy held some bright spots, although they were mostly hidden behind dark clouds, both literally and figuratively.

The still unresolved BSE crisis has meant a marked jump in cattle retained on Manitoba farms. This could have put a tremendous strain on pastures and hay supplies, but the rains that had grain farmers cursing all summer replenished pastures and made for some great hay crops. Thank Heaven for small mercies.

President Bush’s stated determination to re-open the border seemed to offer a bit of light at the end of the BSE tunnel, although it may just be an oncoming train. Given the intensely local nature of the U.S. political system that gives a disproportionate amount of influence to special interests, we need to wait and see. Just enough U.S. ranchers are cashing in on high cattle prices to ensure tough sledding for open borders. But with U.S. slaughter weights and cattle numbers declining and consumer beef prices rising, pressure will only increase to resume the cattle trade.

Grains, oilseeds and special crops were a mixed bag, with weather playing havoc in most areas. Curtis Sims and his family farm about 3,000 acres of land in the MacGregor area, right in the middle of “farm country.” Sims summed up the special crops situation, primarily edible beans in his case, succinctly: “The special crops were a wreck, pure and simple.”

Sims’ farm managed to escape the worst ravages of that infamous August frost and he pulled off a high yielding and high quality canola crop, especially on the early-sown fields. His sunflower crop yielded only about one-quarter of normal, and he noted that about 80% of Manitoba’s entire sunflower crop was simply ploughed under. On the other hand, he has never seen such high-yielding winter wheat, a crop that benefited from all that snow and rain last spring. And the “open fall” allowed his late-planted winter wheat to grow to the two-leaf stage, which could make for a good crop next year.

The weather made for a difficult and tricky harvest. “Basically, there was no forgiveness this year” said Sims.” If you couldn’t take advantage of the few weeks of good farming we had you were toast.” Other farmers weren’t quite so fortunate. In the extreme southwest, Waskada farmer Ralph Smart reported canola that came in with a 90% green seed content, rendering the crop nearly worthless.

On the bright side, Manitoba’s main farm organization, Keystone Agricultural Producers finished off the year in a blaze of glory by achieving the seemingly impossible feat of persuading the Manitoba government to rebate a portion of the education tax on farmland. A nice Christmas present for farm families. KAP also intervened in the hearings on Manitoba’s proposed Water Protection Act and was able to achieve major changes that legislation.

Maybe KAP’s successes are a portent of the year ahead. Let’s hope so. Merry Christmas!