So many el­e­ments out of farm­ers’ con­trol

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL -

It’s not easy be­ing a farmer. The work days are of­ten long. There are break­downs, un­pre­dictabil­ity of crops and live­stock, ris­ing costs of fuel and equip­ment and, of course, rarely any guar­an­tees of a fair price for the food pro­duced.

Dairy farm­ers were once an ex­cep­tion to that last point, as the Cana­dian dairy in­dus­try’s quota sys­tem kept their sup­ply in check with de­mand. Now, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cav­ing in to de­mands from other coun­tries, most no­tably our neigh­bour to the south, even that bit of se­cu­rity is be­ing eroded to a de­gree.

And then we have po­tato grow­ers, pro­duc­ers of Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s num­ber one cash crop. They plant their sets in the spring with­out any guar­an­tee that the weather will co-op­er­ate, and with very lit­tle as­sur­ance of get­ting even their cost of pro­duc­tion back at the end of the grow­ing sea­son. Their use of fer­til­iz­ers, chem­i­cals and, where ap­pli­ca­ble, ir­ri­ga­tion has them un­der con­stant scru­tiny by a gen­eral pub­lic that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive.

The pub­lic cer­tainly has a right to worry about chem­i­cals and ni­trates get­ting into their wa­ter sup­ply and of ir­ri­ga­tion caus­ing kitchen taps to run dry, but, com­mer­cial scale po­tato op­er­a­tions are not pos­si­ble with­out fer­til­izer and with­out chem­i­cals and, in dry sum­mers like we’ve had in 2017 and 2018, it’s get­ting very dif­fi­cult to grow mar­ketable sized and shaped spuds with­out ir­ri­ga­tion. Of course, the Catch-22 is that the drier the con­di­tions the greater the worry that ir­ri­ga­tion would cause a drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis.

The whole is­sue of ir­ri­ga­tion has been stud­ied and de­bated and there is still no clear in­di­ca­tion of how many high ca­pac­ity wells are sus­tain­able. Had the dry con­di­tions that were present through­out the grow­ing sea­son per­sisted un­til now there would be a whole lot of worry hap­pen­ing to­day. And it would have noth­ing to do with the po­tato acreage.

But those dry con­di­tions didn’t con­tinue. In­stead, those crops that so des­per­ately needed rain dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son have been flooded dur­ing the har­vest sea­son.

Con­di­tions are so soupy that mid­way through this week there were still an es­ti­mated 13,000 acres of pota­toes in the ground when, or­di­nar­ily, the har­vest is as good as wrapped up by Hal­loween.

Be­sides the re­duced yield that is likely in ar­eas where grow­ing con­di­tions were the dri­est, there is bound to be some wa­ter dam­age and some frost dam­age show­ing up dur­ing this late har­vest.

So, farm­ers are look­ing at re­duced yield, wa­ter and frost dam­age, the pos­si­bil­ity of not get­ting their en­tire crop out of the ground and, be­cause of the wet har­vest­ing con­di­tions, higher op­er­at­ing costs.

No, it’s not easy be­ing a farmer, but it can be a re­ward­ing pro­fes­sion, too. Farm­ers, after all, toil in all kinds of con­di­tions to put food on their ta­bles and ours. They work hard to pro­vide an es­sen­tial ser­vice.

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