So many elements out of farmers’ control
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.