Good plant­ing con­di­tions damp­ened by pol­i­tics

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - FIELD NOTES

ASIDE FROM TIRADES BY U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump against our dairy farm­ers, things are look­ing good as we head into spring plant­ing, and even the har­vest­ing of early crops.

As­para­gus pro­duc­ers are ex­pected to start their har­vest some­time be­tween May 1-5. As­para­gus is On­tario’s first field crop.

And in some parts of the prov­ince, corn is be­ing planted right now. Thanks to a few days of aboveav­er­age tem­per­a­tures, av­er­age pre­cip­i­ta­tion and windy con­di­tions, most soil types have dried up nicely.

Those con­di­tions bode well for the 2.1-2.2 mil­lion acres of corn that farm­ers will be plant­ing this spring. They’ll be fol­lowed a lit­tle later by soy­beans, which are likely to cover about 2.7 mil­lion acres of On­tario crop­land this year. Those com­prise our ma­jor field crops, along with win­ter wheat, which was seeded last fall on about 800,000 acres of On­tario farm­land.

Some of the crops that grow here go to­wards feed­ing live­stock, in­clud­ing dairy cows. Dairy (along

with chicken and eggs) is what’s known as a sup­ply man­aged in­dus­try. That means the sup­ply is reg­u­lated by gov­ern­ment de­cree, and cheap im­ports are mostly re­stricted from en­ter­ing the coun­try.

This all started af­ter the last World War when farm­ers were get­ting their feet back on the ground, gear­ing up to feed what was then a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. It was thought farm­ers needed pro­tec­tion at the border to help them get a rea­son­able price for their com­modi­ties.

Over the years, sup­ply man­age­ment has be­come part of our cul­ture.

Some say keep­ing im­ports out makes the price of these com­modi­ties un­rea­son­ably high. Oth­ers say it helps our farm­ers of­fer su­pe­rior prod­ucts.

Pres­i­dent Trump sides with the for­mer ar­gu­ment. Not only that, he thinks the woes of U.S. dairy pro­duc­ers, who do not have sup­ply man­age­ment, are tied to Canada. “Be­cause in Canada, some very un­fair things have hap­pened to our dairy farm­ers and oth­ers,” he said, in his usual dis­jointed fash­ion. I think he meant be­cause of Canada, but it doesn’t matter, he’s say­ing what he needs to say to Midwest Amer­ica that elected him. He needs them to be­lieve he can break through the bar­ri­ers that have long ex­isted, bar­ri­ers that might help them be more pros­per­ous.

The re­al­ity is that Canada can­not help Amer­i­can dairy farm­ers get over the hump they and dairy farm­ers from other coun­tries – ones who don’t have a sup­ply man­aged sec­tor – are fac­ing.

They’ve over­pro­duced. So, on the world mar­ket, dairy prices have fallen. They’re look­ing for mar­kets to sell into, and Canada is a nat­u­ral … if only for­eign farm­ers could get ac­cess for a wide range of dairy-re­lated com­modi­ties (they have some ac­cess al­ready, but not nearly the range they want).

If Trump is suc­cess­ful, we have a prob­lem. If changes are made, it will im­pact many farm­ers. If the prices dairy, chicken and egg farm­ers re­ceive tum­ble, those who grow feed for them, for ex­am­ple, will find new chal­lenges too.

But there’s a big­ger is­sue here. Sup­ply man­age­ment in Canada sim­ply can­not be man­aged by an­other coun­try’s gov­ern­ment.

For­mer U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have threat­ened Canada over sup­ply man­age­ment. Trump, how­ever, is un­pre­dictable, vin­dic­tive and in a dif­fi­cult spot. He’s said he’s go­ing to do some­thing to help farm­ers. And as far as agri­cul­ture goes, this could be his launch pad.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment and the dairy sec­tor are fight­ing back with facts, try­ing to ex­plain that Canada is not to blame for the prob­lems with U.S. or global dairy prices. They’ll need re­silience to keep it up, es­pe­cially if it all gets mixed to­gether in NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tions.

Mean­while, plant­ing will con­tinue, as it does ev­ery year. But what the land­scape will look like come har­vest time is any­one’s guess.

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