Crops off to a good start after a brutal 2018

Statistics Canada said net farm income down nearly 70 per cent in Alberta last year

The growing season is off to a good start for central Alberta farmers, who are coming off a bruising 2018.

“We had an almost ideal seeding season with very few interruptions,” said Harry Brook, a crop specialist out of the Alberta Ag Info Centre in Stettler.

“The crop is primarily in now. I’d say we’re 85 to 90 per cent done.”

Brook said some areas, especially in east central Alberta, missed out on some of the recent rains and remain drier than farmers would like, but generally, the season is off to a “decent start.”

Getting off to a good start will be welcomed by producers in central Alberta who were hit hard by a much drier and hotter season last year that held back many crops and severely affected hay.

Farmers took another beating in the fall, when heavy September snowfalls delayed the harvest and reduced the quality of many crops.

On top of what Mother Nature had to throw at farmers, global trade barriers — especially an ongoing dispute with China over canola — took a financial toll.

The trifecta of challenges slashed the net income of Alberta farmers by 68 per cent to $533 million, according to Statistics Canada.

It was the biggest percentage decrease since 2006 and accounts for one-third of Canada’s 45 per cent drop in farm net income last year.

Brook was not surprised by those numbers. In the Peace region in northern Alberta, crops were looking great, and then farmers were slammed by a killing frost.

“The economics are really getting tight,” he said.

It was not as bad in central Alberta, “but the issue is you’re looking at much tighter margins.”

Bentley-area farmer Jason Lenz said a nearly 70 per cent decrease in revenue seems high for central Alberta, which experienced its driest season in 50 years, but he said there is no question farmers saw significant decreases.

He estimates his revenues dropped about 50 per cent, “primarily just because of the China canola issue.

“We sold all of our barley and all of our wheat for pretty good prices this year, really. But we have a majority of our canola sitting in the bin waiting for the price to be right.”

Canola prices have been rising lately, he said.

“Hopefully, that’s a good sign and a sign of things to come,” said Lenz, who grows wheat, barley and canola on 2,000 acres.

China was not the only complication. Trade disputes with Italy over durum wheat and Saudia Arabia over barley also hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

Lenz said this year is off to a good start, though.

“For the most part, seeding operations for everyone are kind of wrapping up,” he said. “Things are progressing along pretty good for early seeded cereal crops.”

Lenz and Brook both said what is needed now is some rain to keep crops on track.

“We could use a good half an inch or inch of rain, for sure,” said Lenz.

Brook echoed that sentiment.

“My big concern, of course, is we’re going to continue to need these rains in sufficient quantity to keep the crop maturing and developing,” he said.

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