Prairie farmers hope for ‘normal’ weather after two volatile years

Greg Sears, a third-generation farmer, is gearing up for a crop year without any curve balls." style="position:absolute;width:1px;height:1px" referrerpolicy="no-referrer-when-downgrade"/>

In 2021, farmers suffered a major blow as a severe drought dried up crops in western Canada, including Sears farms north of Grand Prairie, Alta.

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Then last year – even as the war in Ukraine drove grain and oilseed prices to record highs – inflationary pressures caused a dramatic increase in the price of everything from fertilizer to fuel to tractor tires, leading to losses in industry. Some people termed 2022 as the most expensive. crop years in history

“A roller coaster ride is a good way to describe it,” Sears said of the volatility that has affected Canadian agriculture over the past 24 months.

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“I expect (2023) to be a normal year.”

Sears made the comments in a recent interview from his farm, where the weather has recently turned to what he describes as “spring-ish” conditions.

Although it will still be weeks before his fields dry enough to begin sowing his wheat, barley and canola, Sears said he feels a mix of hope and “nervous anticipation.”

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Alberta hikes crop insurance premiums by 60%: ‘It’s not good news for farmers’

On the one hand, crop prices remain historically high – though not as high as last year – and Canadian farmers are eager to meet growing global demand for food.

“Most signs suggest that farmers are going to be working hard in the fields this year,” Raymond James analyst Steve Hansen wrote in a recent research note. Could provide a “Top 5 crop” this fall.

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But the memory of 2021’s record-breaking heat and drought in western Canada weighs heavy on the many farmers who experienced it.

“We had a certain expectation for what was our worst-case scenario, and 2021 will really reset that range,” Sears said.

“We were affected as much as anybody. It was not a very nice sight for most of the people in our area.

While 2021 was the worst, Western farmers have faced above-average dry weather several times over the past decade.

And as of late February, drought monitoring maps from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada show vast areas of B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan as “abnormally dry” or already in drought conditions.

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Alberta feedlots suffered significant losses in May

It’s a matter of concern, Sears said.

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“We haven’t had a really good solid rainstorm to rehydrate the soil,” he said.

“And we didn’t get the big, big snow that we usually get in February or March. It was too little.

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Drought conditions affect cattle prices in the prairie

Another concern is inflation, which J.P. Gervais, chief economist at Farm Credit Canada, said could hit farm profitability this year.

While fertilizer and diesel prices have eased slightly since last year, they remain historically high. And interest rates are much higher in 2022 than they are at this time, which will be an issue for some farmers.

“The financial health of some operations hinges on ‘do you own your land, and how much interest do you have to pay on that land,'” Gervais said.

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“Certainly a concern for growers is that input costs are going to be very high overall this year,” said Bill Prbylski, who farms near the town of Yorkton in southeast Saskatchewan.

But Pribilski, who is entering his 41st year of farming, said he believes most growers in his area are optimistic despite the risks.

“I think we’re looking at a beautiful start to the crop year here,” he said.

“But clearly a lot can happen between now and harvest.”

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