y several accounts the 2018 crop year has provided an extraordinary challenge for ontario corn farmers.
it isn’t only uncertain commodity markets in the chaotic trading environment that follows around after u.S. President donald trump. Beyond that, an unusually damp autumn has also complicated corn production.
Most recently, grain Farmers of ontario (gFo) has stepped up lobbying efforts aimed at extraordinary compensation for corn growers affected by unusual levels of mould in what appears otherwise to have been an exceptional crop.
Mould at high levels can impair the usefulness of corn for processing. Farm papers are filled with the news of what gFo has called “one of the most severe outbreaks of don (deoxynivalenol) in corn that we have ever seen.”
Mould infection of maturing ears of corn can produce toxins that make it unacceptable as food and may interfere with its use in industrial processes such as ethanol production. Farms.com market analysts Moe agostino and abenish gopal in the January edition of Better Farming describe crops with 10 parts per million of such toxins as “virtually unsalable.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that moisture responsible for mould appears also to have boosted grain yield. as a result, routine crop insurance payouts based on production volume won’t fully compensate for mould losses.
in mid-november, agricorp, the province’s crop insurance agency, announced a “corn salvage benefit” which Farmtario magazine estimated will pay $0.79 per eligible bushel. But gFo chair Markus haerle has also announced a membership survey and a series of meetings with agriculture Minister Ernie hardeman and other officials to consider the damage in greater detail.
all of this further underlines the precariousness of commercial agricultural production subject, as it is so often, to unforeseen changes in markets and climate. government policy is often required to fill gaps in the success or failure of agricultural enterprises.
in the u.S. in 2018, because of trump trade disruptions, american taxpayers have funded an extraordinary $12 billion (uS$) market adjustment program to help offset lost export opportunities. in ontario, because of unusual harvest season dampness, provincial taxpayers now face similar expectations for public funding of climate-related losses.
This is not new in agriculture where subsidization is as old as civilization itself. Stable, healthful food supplies are essential to any successful state.
it’s been some time, however, since agriculture policy makers in either the u.S. or canada have experienced new demands for public support of agriculture on this scale. That ontario’s new Progressive conservative government will respond seems likely, considering supportive comments about agriculture from Premier doug Ford since he took office last June.
The full extent of ontario’s mouldy corn problem remains to be seen. it will depend on the precise level of contamination and the final size of this year’s corn harvest.
The provincial agriculture ministry’s 2018 corn survey cites agricorp yield data as of dec. 19 showing 53 per cent of insured acreage with average yield of 181 bushels per acre, well above the 10 year average of 170 bu./ ac. What proportion of the total crop will be marketed and at what price have yet to be determined.
Through several years of relatively high commodity prices, agriculture has made relatively few new demands on public spending. The past 10 years has seen growing appreciation for agriculture among political leaders who have come to see it as an expandable source of export income.
But you can’t export mouldy corn. and that may require substantial farm program spending from an ontario government just now preparing its first budget.