2013 has been a very good year for prairie agriculture, except for all the usual bad news that surrounds it.
The good news? Despite a horribly late spring which delayed seeding, this year’s grain harvest was literally a bumper crop, one of the best that farmers have enjoyed on the prairies for many years. In Manitoba alone, farm cash receipts are up more than a billion dollars, year over year. It’s a very similar great story in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The bad news? The bigger the harvest, the more it drives down world prices. Bad news, like droughts and crop failures elsewhere, are almost always good news in this part of the world. Somehow it seems so unfair, but farmers are well aware of the risks when they put those seeds in the ground.
The more serious bad story about the harvest of 2013 is the way it has once again overwhelmed the grain handling and transportation infrastructure. Grain elevators across the prairies are more than 90% full. Storage bins on farms are also full, and many tons of grain is piled up on the ground under tarps to hopefully keep it dry.
In Vancouver some 20 ships are sitting in Georgian Bay, waiting to load grain that is bound for export markets in Europe and Asia. The meter is running on those ships. They’re called demurrage charges, and they come out of farmers’ pockets.
The farmers and the grain handlers blame the railways, but CN and CP say they can’t make enough money moving grain to improve their infrastructure. Two years ago, Stephen Harper and company hailed the dawning of a new era of market freedom when they ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly.
World market conditions have been ideal, but this year’s harvest has demonstrated once more that when it comes to prairie agriculture, good news in the morning, can turn into bad news before sundown.
I’m Roger Currie