By Paul Kuntz
As we are seeding this year’s crop, a conversation has begun that troubles me. It has to do with the StatCan Acreage Report for seeding intentions in Western Canada.
There are many experts who are critical of the accuracy of this report. Based on grain market conditions, experts believe this seeding intention report is wrong and that farmers will not be seeding what they said. This is not the first time analysts have questioned this report. The issue I have is not with the accuracy of the report but more so with the motivation as to why it is wrong.
All of the analysts and experts are saying there is no way farmers are planting less canola, more wheat and just a bit less lentils and peas. All of this comes from market conditions. Wheat is not doing great and there appears to be an abundance of it in the world. Peas and lentils are falling out of favour because of export tariffs in other countries. So purely based on what the price of the commodity is per bushel, these analysts think farmers will abandon wheat and peas and seed wall-to-wall canola.
I will look past uneducated statements from uneducated people but I take issue with experts making these statements. They are accusing farmers of being near sighted and naive when it comes to their cropping practices. The price of the commodity does play a role in deciding what to seed but the biggest consideration goes to production. I can tell you from past experience it is not the price of the crop that determines success, it is production.
In order to be successful this year and for years to come, farmers must have high production year over year. That is the only way they can survive. The only way they can produce big crops is with healthy conditions. Crop rotation does still play a large part in determining good growing conditions. We know that rotations are tighter, but they still do exist.
Farmers do want to grow a lot of canola because it is one of the most profitable crops. They want to grow a lot in 2018. But they also want to grow it in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The only way that is possible is with healthy conditions.
Farmers are well aware of the world trade issues with pulse crops, but they also understand the benefit of sowing pulses. They understand there is more to the whole picture than just price per bushel today.
Farmers know wheat production is high in the world. They understand the challenges. But they also understand the benefit wheat brings to their rotation.
Because farmers need to produce every year, they are sustainable by the very nature of their business. The definition of sustainability has taken many different roads. Regardless of where you sit on the definition, I will argue that no one is more concerned about sustainability than farmers. I am confident in the passion that many urbanites bring to the table questioning the sustainability of farming practices. I am confident that today’s consumers want sustainability in their food-production practices. But I am most confident that farmers are the primary advocate of sustainability.
Consumers and urbanites can question sustainability but the effects are felt most by farmers. Going to the grocery store to find out bananas are not available anymore would be inconvenient to the consumer. Think about the farmer in that situation. What would the permanent loss of income mean to the producer? It would be devastating.
There will be examples of non-sustainable practices out there. We all know of illegal drainage that has happened. We all know someone who repeatedly plants canola. We all know someone who has rented a piece of land and mined it. Generally speaking, this is not today’s farmer. This type of reckless behaviour is very much in the minority.
Reviewing seeding plans this spring with my clients, the crop mix was very similar to last year and was mostly based on rotations they have developed over the years. Producers who seed pulses may have seeded a bit less, but they did not abandon the crop. Canola acres were maximized, but the crop rotation was not altered.
Maybe the StatCan report is wrong and farmers will seed a lot more canola than last year. Maybe they will cut back on wheat. Whatever farmers do, long-term sustainability will be at the forefront.
Farmers want to produce crops today and tomorrow. Most are thinking one generation ahead and not just next year. Sustainability is in their blood.