Abnormal Times For Agriculture

For a number of reasons, it’s an unusual spring for agriculture.

Typically, there’s a spring moisture shortage somewhere in Saskatchewan. It was certainly shaping up that way in western areas after a winter with below-normal precipitation. But the rain and snow started falling in early April and hasn’t stopped.

Drought has been averted in the west, while eastern regions are suffering with too much moisture. Producers everywhere are hoping for some dry weather so they can get the crop in the ground.

Here’s something else unusual. A widely used herbicide has dropped dramatically in price just as its season of use begins. According to farm input suppliers, BASF has cut the price of Pursuit herbicide by $350 a jug. The price has been running at nearly $1,100 for a 3.3-litre container.

Pursuit is coming into Canada from the U. S. under GROU, the Grower Requested Own Use program. Producers using the GROU program are still going to end up with a lower price, but the gap has been significantly narrowed.

Another company is working to bring a generic Pursuit to Canadian growers for next year. If that happens, there should be price competition from more than just the GROU program.

Farm input suppliers say BASF has also cut the price on a number of its other key products.

Here’s another surprise. Hog producers are making money.

A year ago, a promising rally in hog prices was wiped out by H1N1 being inappropriately labelled swine flu. Now, after three years of punishing losses, hog prices are back into profitable territory and that is expected to last into the months ahead.

For a change, most of the major market factors are favourable. U. S. pork exports overseas have increased and there’s less pork in cold storage.

Unfortunately, the years of low prices have taken a toll. The Canadian breeding herd has declined by nearly 20 per cent since peaking back in 2005. As of April 1, the Saskatchewan breeding herd was only 85,200 head, down nearly 12 per cent from a year ago, and down 35 per cent from its peak in 2005.

While hog numbers have crashed, Alberta cattle feedlots are showing more interest in Saskatchewan than ever before.

Namaka Enterprises, a large feedlot operation from southern Alberta has announced its intentions to set up a Saskatchewan operation southeast of Outlook in the southern end of the South Saskatchewan Irrigation District. Ultimately, the plan is for a 36,000-head feedlot which would make it the largest in the province.

Local sources say Namaka has been securing land in the area for quite some time. There are concerns over the proposal, one of which is the proximity of the operation to the main irrigation canal. The rural municipality has scheduled a meeting for June 17 to present the feedlot proposal to the public and listen to feedback.

If it goes ahead, this Namaka feedlot would be a bit bigger than the Pound-Maker feedlot at Lanigan. Pound-Maker has been a great asset for that entire region, but how an intensive livestock operation is managed determines whether it’s a good corporate citizen.

Another Alber ta feedlot owner, Cor Van Raay has purchased a big block of land near Conquest. Many observers assume a feedlot is being planned for that area as well, but no intentions have been announced.

So far, it’s been a year with a lot of surprises. Makes one wonder what’s in store for the months ahead.

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

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