It’s very difficult to unpack a growing season such as this one. In spring, there was again a question mark surrounding farmer access to inputs. Fertilizer was rumoured to be hard to get. Seed as well.
These whispers filter through coffee shops, into newspapers and are sensationalized to an audience of consumers and farmers, who are or have become hypersensitive to supply chain disruptions.
Now, it’s the end of July. Inputs were not an issue to get. Commodity prices are swinging in ways that seem more irrational than usual and we’re experiencing a drought the likes of which I have never before experienced (suddenly all those references to the ’80s my dad has made over the years are coming into focus).
My soybeans are about one-third as tall as they usually are at this time of year. My canola bloomed quite early and some of our wheat is looking suspiciously underdeveloped.
I’ve been farming long enough to know that from-the-road assessments are no match for getting in there with the combine (it’s July 27 as I write this and some farmers in our area have begun their wheat harvest).
Conversations surrounding pandemic-related supply chain bottlenecks are not as popular as they were.
Without sounding aloof to the desperation Canadian farmers are facing this year, it is refreshing to once again have crops and non-political topics be popular discussion points. It was/is very tricky wading through the potentially divisive subject matter of masks, politics and civil liberties with people you are close with or people with whom you’re obliged to maintain a working relationship.
Awareness of the social and cultural sensitivities surrounding the pandemic have, without a doubt, exacted a toll on all of us and, in ways not yet known, affected our ability to process the drought currently plaguing a large swath of Canada. Some good news would be nice.
While crop conditions around me are poor or, at the very least, hard to interpret, I’ve been quite distracted this year. Thankfully so. It’s a great year to be distracted and busy. In June, I took an additional off-farm job. I began working as a consultant for the firm Bjornson and Associates. While I remain at Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, I reduced my hours in order to do both jobs.
The consultancy has a tremendous amount of experience working in agriculture and agriculture policy. The learning curve continues to be steep, but also quite interesting.
I remain staunchly devoted to the idea that agriculture policy in Canada could be a lot stronger. I believe that how we, as an industry, present to government could be improved and I believe that us farmers need to really assess where the messages we receive are coming from and who is speaking on our behalf.
Underpinning the complex web of tactics and strategy surrounding agricultural policy is a philosophy — a set of values — core beliefs.
Becoming too caught up in how to be effective can make us blind to our initial motivations.
“Sustainability” and “regenerative agriculture” are two great examples of terms that have largely been defined by private industry claiming to be speaking on behalf of farmers. I am not aligning myself with those who feel sustainability and regenerative agriculture are ridiculous concepts. No. I am saying that they are important concepts and farming could make huge gains if it took them seriously and spent time defining them outside a box drawn by others.
But these considerations also stand apart from the tangibles of a growing season.
During the course of me writing this, I watched my father get the combine out of the machine shed and prepare it for harvest. That is always a big move. The shift from watching the crop to harvesting often seems abrupt. This year, especially. To harvest wheat in July is notable.