Some Predictions More Useful Than Others

Recently, I was treated to a presentation by yet another expert who believes the world’s climate is going to hell in a hand basket. The message for agriculture is adapt, adapt, adapt.

The long-term trend, say most of the experts, is undeniably warming temperatures. While the science isn’t as sure, many experts are betting the Prairies will become drier as well. Some believe we’ll have multi-year, maybe even decade-long droughts.

Oh, and variable too – there will be more extreme weather events.

A big portion of the Prairies has just had the wettest growing season in recorded history and there were darn few summer days that reached 30 C. That’s certainly an argument for variability.

But if you farmed this year under the assumption that it was likely to be hot and dry, it didn’t work very well.

Should you assume that next year is going to be hot and dry? Oh, say the experts, we can’t tell you what next year is going to be like, but trust us about the trend in the decades ahead.

They want to do more climate change research to come up with better models. But they’re sure about their key message – agriculture has to work hard to adapt to the upcoming changes.

Sorry for the cynicism, but I find very little in the climate change projections that’s actually useful in farm management decisions. Better to concentrate on other types of future gazing.

The deadline has now passed for putting in an application under the Excess Moisture Program. This $30-an-acre federal-provincial program has been relatively easy to administer and many producers have already been paid.

Cattle producers are continuing their lobbying effort for similar treatment. In a lot of areas, hay and forage production has never been greater, but in some northeastern and east-central regions, fields have been too wet to bale, graze or silage. Bales that were rolled up are now sitting in water and overall feed quality is very poor. Most cattle producers will also tell you that their reference margin is so low that the AgriStability program is of no benefit.

It’s a reasonable request for livestock producers to receive support comparable to the Excess Moisture Program on cropland. However, it’s difficult to know how a program should be structured so that assistance goes to those who have been the most disadvantaged.

For both cattle and grain, some of the production pain will be offset by improved price levels.

Grain producers are wondering if the best grain prices are over or are yet to come. The market seems to be whipsawed by bullish news followed by bearish reports. The market is still trying to assess quantities and qualities following all the bad weather, but price levels are attractive on many crops.

There are years when the best grain prices are available right off the combine. There are other years when those who market early regret it. Sometimes the entire grain complex moves up or down with most crops following the overall trend. Other times, we see different commodities move in opposite directions.

Producers are faced with options for what to market when.

It’s difficult to predict grain and livestock prices. It’s also difficult to predict government policies and programs. It’s darn near impossible to glean anything useful from climate forecasts.

Kevin Hursh is a consulting agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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