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The Other Side Of Average

For many farmers in southeast Saskatchewan and some other areas, 2011 has been a year to forget, burn all the calendars and hopefully carry on. For those of you in that situation please skip this article and go on to the next.

But for many of us in central Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta and Manitoba, 2011 was a once in a lifetime sort of year. The soil was full of water from the excess of 2010 but the Prairie sun shone brightly all summer with just enough rain and it was warm, but not too hot. There were few damp or high humidity days to flush up the diseases and, except for a few cutworms in the spring, no bugs or other gremlins to eat away at our crops.

As harvest approached we all expected lousy September weather to bring us back to reality. But, no, Mother Nature came through again. The Jet Stream was somewhere in the NWT and an Omega block, just like 1988, was stuck in place leaving almost all of Saskatchewan with unbelievable endless sunny days. Some were even on the hot side and hot canola in the bin was a bit of a worry.

Most years when we have perfect harvest weather there is not much crop to take off anyway, but not so this year. No frost until September 14 and then only one night. Many farmers saw fantastic yields and very good quality with no or little green count in canola.

At harvest time spot prices almost always drop off a lot but this year canola prices actually went up as the combines started to roll.

In our area farmers were getting very hard up to find anything to complain about. By October we could complain about it being too dry, but on October 7 we got 1-3/4 inches of nice steady rain a nice start for next years crop.

The profitable grain prices and good crops bring back fond memories of the 1970s. There was serious money in farming, land prices skyrocketed and machinery lots were empty, with lots of shiny new iron on every farm.

Let us remember that at some time we will see the other side of the average in terms of both crops yields and quality and especially on prices. Many say this time is different, with all those mouths to feed so crop prices will stay up for a very long time. I wish, of course, but I do not believe it for a moment. Malthus had us eating ourselves out of house and home a few hundred years ago, but cycles have come and gone and his predictions have yet to come true.

On the land price issue, there are some things different this time. In the 1980s ownership of Saskatchewan farmland was limited to Saskatchewan residents only, this being a bit too restrictive because people raised on farms who ended up with a career elsewhere had to divest any land even if it was the home farm land they inherited.

The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Now there are corporations buying up blocks of land. That is adding to the high prices, but in many cases farmers do it to one other in good times.

So let us not forget the other side of the average can appear without much notice. Just think for a moment about a 25 bushel wheat crop at $4/bu. or 15 bushels of canola at $5/bu. and interest rates at 10 per cent and up. Seems far fetched but it has seemed that way in the past also.

The European and U.S. debt situation will lead to more trouble ahead. It seems when they have dug a hole they cannot leap out of the answer is keep digging . Doesn t make much sense to me. As Alf Bryan always said I may be wrong but… As you plan expansion activities to take advantage of the rosy times think about the other side of the average.

J.L.(Les)HenryisaformerprofessorandextensionspecialistattheUniversityofSaskatchewan.HefarmsatDundurn,Sask.Herecentlyfinishedasecondprintingof Henry sHandbookofSoilandWater ,abookthatmixesthebasicsandpracticalaspectsofsoil,fertilizerandfarming.LeswillcovertheshippingandGSTforGrainewsreaders.Simplysendachequefor$50toHenryPerspectives,143TuckerCres,Saskatoon,SK,S7H3H7,andhewilldispatchasignedbookposte-haste

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Just think about 25 bushel wheat at $4 a bushel and 10 per cent interest rates

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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