A unexpectedly large Canadian oat crop for 2008-09 will push carryout to 1.174 million tonnes or more, keeping the pressure on prices

(Written October 25, 2008)

We all know that global financial market turmoil has pressured grain markets considerably. Emotion has probably pushed the sell-off too far, and a bounce can be expected once the global credit crunch issues settle down and the process of stock/commodity market deleveraging finally runs its course. Myself, I’m of the “opinion” that better prices will inevitably return to the ag markets later into the second half of the marketing year.

But the question is, bounce from what level? These remain uncertain times to say the least. And if one is only lightly sold on 2008 oat production, it leaves one in quite an uncomfortable position.

This is the case for many oat growers this year, especially those who reaped an unexpectedly large crop. From comments received through key oat growing areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, a very large, high yielding crop was harvested this year. The latest StatCan production forecast suggests a 4.3 million tonne crop. But I suspect that’s likely to grow to 4.5 million tonnes in StatCan’s final report in December. Apparently the cooler than normal summer months delivered on yield, despite a questionable start to the growing season.

Usage wise, 2008-09 feed, waste and dockage are upped from last year to incorporate what we think will be greater waste due to long on-farm storage. Exports will shrink some. There is a line of reasoning that accumulated oat stocks sitting in position in the Minneapolis/Duluth cash market — rumoured anywhere from 0.3 to 0.5 million tonnes — will reduce additional import needs from Canada.

That’s an interesting development. An outfit called White Box that bought up Cargill and ConAgra storage facilities in those key U. S. oat cash markets, is rumoured to have filled them up with oat product imported last year from Canada — presumably for speculative purposes. They in effect operate similar to spec funds in the futures markets, but took it a step further by actually buying storage and cash oats.

So there’s a bit of an unknown variable there. Will they be forced to liquidate positions similar to what has occurred by the large spec players in the various commodity futures? Or will they continue to maintain product in storage as a spec play as long as the contango carry in the futures market continues to pay them to store cash product? If futures suddenly turn backwardian or inverse (nearby futures premium to deferreds), would that force cash oats into the system?

Anyway, while the White Box anomaly is being held out as a potential reason to suggest a lessening need for Canadian oat imports, an alternative theory has arisen. Some quarters in the oat trade suggest that White Box will hold oats in storage as long as futures trade remains in contango (which means futures trade essentially pays for storage), so U. S. milling oat demand from Canada continues at a regular though somewhat reduced pace. The rest of the drop in oat exports will come from offshore markets, down perhaps 0.1 to 0.15 million tonnes as product from other countries (such as Australia) soon become available.

Whatever happens to exports, the bottom line is that Canada is rebuilding its oat inventory and year-end carryout will rise. Current forecast for 2008-09 puts carryout at a burdensome 1.174 million tonnes, some say more.

This will weigh on prices. Perhaps if the markets get some sense of resolution to financial market crisis, there could be a quick and broad-based reaction bounce in commodity markets generally, taking oats for some of the ride. Oat futures also have a seasonal tendency to rise going into the winter (see the chart), though I don’t know how much we can trust seasonal trends in this most odd of years.

WHAT TO DO?

Taking into account all of the knowns and what’s sure to be many unknowns to come, PFCanada edged up sales slightly in early October, fearing potential further downside price risk near-term — or at best sideways trends.

Record large 2008-09 carryout is unavoidable, which suggests the market keeps grinding flat to lower where periodic rallies of 25 cents per bushel likely fail for now. If yields were to drop back to normal in 2009, with unchanged area, next year’s production starting point would be 4.0 million tonnes. Oat production in 2009 though would need to threaten a dip towards 3.5 million tonnes or below before supply concerns would once again arise.

Have you ever considered starting grape vines from seeds? It’s not for the faint hearted nor impatient gardener, but if you’re a grape grower up for the challenge, go for it! My previous Grainews column (October 20) gave instructions for cold treatment of grape seeds, a form of stratification. Here is a quick recap:

Place grape seeds in peat moss or a damp paper towel and put that in the fridge for at least two or three months. The peat moss (in a plastic bag) must be kept damp throughout the whole process, but not wet or soggy.

A consistent temperature between 1C and 3C (35F to 40F) is ideal. This preparation is absolutely essential for obtaining a higher percentage of germination. Even then, sprout numbers are often quite low.

The good news is cold treated or stratified grape seeds can be held long term, even for years. Grape seeds are covered with a very tough coating that keeps them dormant until conditions are ideal for germination.

Some genetics can be lost

Starting from saved seed may not be the ideal route as the genetics of any given variety are not always carried over by the seeds. Take for example planted seeds from Bluebell or Concord grapes. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Chances are strong that the new vines will not resonate all their true qualities. Plus, it’s a wait and see event and can take up to three years and more to propagate new fruit-bearing grape vines from seed.

Incidentally, I know some folks who chew up whole grape seeds and then swallow the mush in the belief it contributes to bodily wellness. You can also buy grape seed supplements at health food stores.

Planting grape seeds

After the cold treatment or stratification, remove grape seeds from the fridge and plant them in soilless mix in seed pots. Ensure the daytime temperature remains consistent at 20C (70F). If your growing area is cool, use bottom heat mats available at garden centres to increase the minimum temperature. During the night, seed pots should go no lower that 15C.

Within a few weeks, some of the seeds will begin germinating — if luck is on your side. Transplant grape seedlings into larger individual pots once they reach one to two inches high. Keep the growing medium evenly moist but not too wet. It’s best to grow seed-started grapes in pots for a full year before planting them out in their permanent home.

Layering grape vines

This is easier than starting from seed if you want to add vines to your grape patch — especially if you’re happy with your existing varieties. What I’m about to explain can also be done with clematis vines. In either case, for highest success rate, do it in early spring during dormancy before buds break.

It’s really quite simple. Begin by making a new good-sized planting hole or short, deep furrow. Grasp a sturdy, healthy cane from a nearby existing vine. Do not cut it off. Instead, loop it down inside the planting hole like a horseshoe. You want about 30 cm (12 inches) of length down inside the hole, and a metre (39 inches) or less sticking out above ground.

Before filling in the hole with soil, it’s important to keep the submerged section of vine in place with a piece of stone or a sturdy staple so it doesn’t pop out.

Eventually, roots will develop on the buried section and new shoots will appear from buds on the surface piece of vine. Nutrients are drawn from the existing mother plant. Train it as it grows. After a couple of years, roots of the new vine are strong enough to support the plant. Make sure it’s well established and producing a crop before severing the connection to the host plant.

Have you tried this yourself? What challenges and successes have you had with grapes? Please send me your comments and feedback.

Boil them cabbage down

I sometimes wonder how old-time fiddlers arrived at names of tunes they played. Take for example, a fiddle number I used to air as a D. J. called “Boil Them Cabbage Down.” It often led me to chat with folks about the goodness of cabbage. Here’s an example: Are you aware that cabbage in any form, eaten raw, cooked or fermented, at least once or twice a week, may reduce possibility of developing colon cancer by two thirds? Boost your family’s ability to ward off cancer and keep your inners squeaky clean by regularly eating cabbage in some form. It’s been confirmed in dietary research.

Canadian coleslaw sandwich

Have you ever tried a coleslaw sandwich? Well it’s delightful and I love it! In my view, it does the human body a great service. Needs no persuading or getting used to either.

If I had a fast-food eatery, “Canadian Coleslaw Sandwich” would definitely be on the menu. Can’t you just visualize yourself coming into my imaginary “Singing Gardener’s Diner” and saying, “I’ll have a Canadian Coleslaw Sandwich on toasted rye please with cabbage rolls on the side and a glass of sauerkraut juice!”

But a reality check quickly sets in. I don’t own a diner except in my make believe world of words. But let me share with you how to put a coleslaw sandwich together.

Make coleslaw from scratch using a favourite recipe, then chill it for an hour or longer so flavours permeate. Pile coleslaw high (slightly drained if weepy) on lightly toasted and buttered whole grain, flax, sunflower seed, oat bran or onion and garlic bread. It is absolutely irresistible and you’ll want to make often.

Sauerkraut juice

…is right up there for maintaining healthful intestinal tract flora. You can buy sauerkraut juice at health food stores, but you can also make it. Rinse homemade or store bought sauerkraut in a change of clear water to reduce excess salt. Then cover sauerkraut with more fresh water and let it steep in the fridge for at least a few hours. The longer it sits, the better I like the juice, but suit yourself. Strain off the fluid and you’ve got a ready-to-drink, delectable, health promoting sauerkraut beverage.

Proverbs

I finally got all my beets and carrots dug and made some borstch. It’s what I call stick to your ribs soup. Here’s an old Yiddish saying: “Troubles are easier to take with soup than without.”

Do you agree with the following Spanish-flavoured statement? “Of soup and love, the first is best.”

Words of an ancient Korean proverb tell us: “Life is half spent before we know what it is.” Some say it’s meant to keep us humble and a potent reminder how precious are both time and life.

Let me put a wrap on my chorus of words with yet another Korean proverb. “Once on shore, we pray no more.”

Why is that? To me, it’s a powerful reminder to not forget those who have been good to us and those who are good to us today, especially when we are “on shore, on land” and safe from the sea.

Ted Meseyton is the Singing Gardener & Grow-it Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. He is available for personal appearances and teaches yodeling and musical grow-your-own-garden classes to children and adults. His e-mail address is: [email protected]

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