Relatively good grain prices had Western Canadian farmers feeling optimistic when surveyed in April, but many were justifiably nervous about the weather.
The Canadian Wheat Board’s 2009 producer survey shows 60 per cent of farmers continue to believe that agriculture is headed in the right direction. That’s similar to last year’s poll. Prices are down, but the CWB says wheat returns this crop year will be second only to last crop year.
When the survey of 1,300 farmers was taken, 25 per cent identified the weather as their biggest challenge. Since then west-central Saskatchewan and central Alberta have turned into dust bowls, while wet conditions in central and eastern Manitoba delayed seeding. Most of the West was cooler than normal this spring too. Poor growing conditions prompted the CWB to predict grain production will drop 20 per cent this year.
Input costs such as fertilizer, fuel and pesticides continue to be the top concern among farmers, with 52 per cent listing it as their biggest problem, above grain prices (the top concern for 36 per cent) and weather concerns. Yet worry over input costs is down markedly from last year and two years ago when 66 and 72 per cent respectively listed production costs as a major problem.
Such a big change surprised David Herle, a partner in the Gandalf Group, hired to do the survey.
“I don’t know the industry well enough to comment on why that has happened,” he said.
Farmers also gave strong support to the CWB’s pricing options. Sixty-nine per cent said the programs are “well” or “somewhat well” managed.
Seventy-three per cent agreed it was understandable that the CWB’s contingency fund lost money last crop year. But two-thirds agreed it was “unacceptable” to take money from the pool accounts to cover the losses.
Despite recent efforts by the Grain Growers of Canada to encourage the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) wheat, the CWB found most farmers (69 per cent) oppose it at this time. Only nine per cent said they want to grow GM wheat immediately.
The CWB surveys farmers annually to learn what farmers are thinking, CWB chair and Swift Current area farmer Larry Hill said in an interview June 18.
“The board of directors will use it to try and make things better in terms of meeting producers’ needs.”