It has been two months since I posted “One Storm Can Change Everything“. That was the last – and only – significant rain event we have seen this year.
Making things worse was the incessant, unrelenting heat, burning up what little water we had. Want to know the best way to tell that farmers have a tough crop this year? Great beach weather! All those hot, dry days in July and August, while great for going to the lake, make for terrible growing conditions.
Make no mistake: I’m in an area that has at least received at least some moisture this year. We have gotten 88 mm (3.5 inches) of rain so far this year. While this is extremely low – less that 40% of our average rainfall to date – many farms further south and west of ours have seen even less (some have seen much less). So I’m not going to complain and say we are worse off than anybody else, as that is simply not the case. We are fortunate to have the crop that we do.
I think it’s important to understand the situation for farmers out there this year. Nothing anybody did caused this drought to happen, and we farmers do the best we can to utilize every drop of rain we can get in years like this. There’s just very little you can do if it doesn’t rain.
We can give our crops the best chance, with the best genetics, the best crop protection products, and get every job done right and on time. But if the rains don’t come; if the weeks slip by without a drop of moisture, with unceasing heat sucking water out of the crop like a sponge; the crop will fail. Sometimes the weather outweighs everything else.
Adding insult to injury is that sometimes droughts aren’t recognized as a problem by the markets. A world awash in wheat and soybeans doesn’t care about some poor crops in Western Canada. Grain buyers don’t care that we need $13 per bushel canola prices to break even. If the market determines the price should be $10.50 per bushel, that’s just the way it is.
A drought like this one hasn’t been seen on the Prairies in quite a long time. Comparisons are being made to 1988 in many areas, one of the worst droughts in recorded history in the Prairies. It is because of the changes in production techniques that we even have a crop at all. No-till (means the ground is rarely, if ever, worked) is a big part of the reason we have the crop that we do, and no-till only works if we have access to the best crop protection products. Genetically modified crops like canola allow for the minimization of tillage by allowing the use of broad-spectrum herbicides like glyphosate or others. We need every tool in the toolkit when conditions become challenging.
In times like this, we don’t ask for your sympathy, nor do we ask for hand-outs. We ask only for your understanding; that maybe it’s okay it rained on the weekend, possibly derailing lake plans. We ask that maybe you give us a little more room to complain about the weather. We ask for a bit of extra patience in dealing with us, with the extra stress that so many farmers are struggling with right now. The Farm Stress Line is very busy right now. Stress is very real in times like this, and don’t be afraid to ask how your farm friends are doing.
Farming is a complicated and stressful business, and droughts like this one certainly add to the burden. Farming is a long-term, generational business, with next year always at the forefront of our minds. I already worry for 2018; with severely depleted soil moisture, we will desperately need a recharge for the next crop year. If we don’t get it, we may remember 2017 as the deep breath before the plunge.
For now though, my main focus is on harvest. As the combines roll along, we are seeing decent yields coming off the fields. The winter wheat and peas are in the bin, and we should be back at harvest in a couple of days. Lentils are next, and canola and durum will soon follow. Given the limited moisture, I am satisfied with the yields we’re seeing.
There is a lot to be positive about. Just because soil moisture is low now doesn’t mean next year will be a drought too. There have been many flash-in-the-pan droughts (see Midwest USA drought in 2012), and there will be many more. Agriculture is an amazing way of life, and the silver lining of a slower year like this one is more time to spend with my wife and son – and the new little one joining our family in January.