Now is the Winter of Our Discontent: Lost year thanks to foul harvest season leaves many farmers feeling down

By Tim Kalinowski

 

While Southern Alberta’s sugar beet growers sustained heavy losses after being frozen out to end their harvest season, other types of producers struggled to get crops off as well.

Local potato growers lost an estimated 15 per cent of their harvest this year due to monster hailstorms earlier in the season, and after being frozen out to end their season.

“It’s done,” confirmed Potato Growers of Alberta executive director Terrence Hochstein. “There is no more harvest this year for beets or potatoes. It’s finished. It is what it is. Our producers have lost some crop, and some of them also had crop affected by the hailstorm earlier this season. That’s a loss to them as well; so it was a trying year.”

Hochstein said the multiple freezing events this fall led to potatoes being completely frozen beneath the soil, making them useless for food production at local potato processing plants.

“It was completely frozen,” he stated. “You can’t harvest frozen product. And there is not much you can do about it. That’s the cards Mother Nature deals us, and we’ll move forward into next year.”

As for local potato processing plants like Cavendish and McCain’s? Hochstein said they didn’t get as much local product as they would have liked this year, but they got enough to keep going.

“The new (Cavendish) plant has got enough,” he confirmed. “They are confident they will have enough to meet their demands. All the potato plants are going to be somewhat short, but they’ll manage it. They need to ship production into other areas.”

One major local crop which did largely avoid the early freezes to get off on time was canola, despite fears Southern Alberta producers were racing the elements to get the harvest done in good order.

“I think as you go north in the province it gets worse and worse, but south of Calgary most of the canola is off,” said Kevin Serfas, vice-chair of Alberta Canola. “There might be the odd field around that did not get harvested, but in the second week of October there was a bit of a window, and a bunch of harvesting got done then.

“I think guys who may have had a little bit still out there got most of it cleaned up. I don’t know if it came off dry, but it did get done.”

Serfas said the same is not true in other parts of the province, and he feels for those producers who have now lost their crops after already having a steep hill to climb with the ongoing Chinese ban and persistent low prices.

“I think the last number I saw was provincially there is about 10 per cent of that canola crop left in the field,” he said. “And I know a lot of people where the crop came off wet north of Calgary. There were guys bagging it wet, and they were going to try to dry it. There is a lot of drying going on north of that Calgary area.”

The good news, if you can call it that, said Serfas is those who do have a crop seem to have a market to sell it into.

“Canola is moving as farmers have been forced to become a little better marketers when it comes to selling their crops,” Serfas confirmed. “Nothing is really a great price right now, whether it is wheat, barley or canola. So depending on what guys’ cashflow needs are, and tuned into the market they are, there are some prices where you can sell canola at a reasonable amount.

“I get calls daily from guys wanting to buy canola,” he stated.“The problem is, for the most part, those are not really great prices they are offering, and I think they are having a hard time getting product bought. Something has got to give somewhere, I would say, but it is moving in small amounts.”

Canola was selling in Southern Alberta for about $9.70 a bushel at the time of Serfas’ interview with Ag-Matters.

“At that price, you are basically selling it for what it costs you to grow it,” he said. “But bankers want to get paid, and retailers want to get paid; so at some point guys have to turn that crop into some cash.”