Chicago | Reuters — Excessively wet conditions in the northern U.S. Plains and Canadian Prairies have hurt the quality of the region’s spring and durum wheat crops, potentially tightening supplies of top grades of the grains, handlers and agronomists said.
Rains and heavy dew have slowed the harvest and, worse, caused mature, un-harvested wheat kernels in some areas to begin to sprout, severely damaging quality and triggering steep discounts from grain buyers of US$1 or more per bushel.
“It’s really bad news in a year like this, when commodity prices are so low to begin with,” said Joel Ransom, an agronomist with North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Farmers in North Dakota, by far the largest U.S. spring wheat producer, have already endured low prices for soybeans, the state’s top-grossing crop. Soy surpluses in North Dakota and elsewhere have ballooned due to several years of bumper harvests coupled with slowing export demand as the U.S trade war with top soy buyer China enters its second year.
Hard red spring wheat, grown in the northern Plains and milled into flour for bagels, pizza dough and for blending with lesser grades of wheat, typically represents about 20-30 per cent of the total U.S. wheat harvest.
U.S. and world wheat supplies remain ample overall, but the quality problems may lift cash prices for the best grades of wheat sought by millers.
North Dakota’s spring wheat was 73 per cent harvested by Sunday (Sept. 15). Crops still standing due to weather delays — some 86 million bushels — are likely to have the poorest quality.
“We’ve had enough rains coming through that anything is out there now, or that has been recently harvested, has probably been challenged,” Ransom said.
In Canada, the wheat harvest is less advanced. Farmers had gathered 13 per cent of Saskatchewan’s spring wheat crop as of Monday, the province said in a weekly report. Harvest progress for all crops in the province totaled 23 per cent, half the five-year average pace of 50 per cent.
The top grades of U.S. and Canadian spring wheat “just are not going to be available in the same volumes,” said Chuck Penner, analyst at Winnipeg-based LeftField Commodity Research. He added that the weather was also causing problems for durum wheat, used to make pasta.
“Durum is looking awful too… Half the crop might end up essentially going to the feed market. We are just starting to see the (market) reaction,” Penner said.
Benchmark December spring wheat futures on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange have climbed about eight per cent since hitting a contract low on Sept. 3, as the quality problems were beginning to emerge.
— Julie Ingwersen is a Reuters commodities correspondent in Chicago.
It is time to be in the fields; to sow what will soon be an abundant Canadian harvest.
I love the fact that I can still identify the make of an engine by the sound and I never get over the thrill of hearing the first piece of equipment rumble down a country road en route to pierce the soil. There is something spiritual about growing food and it is supported by the sights, sounds, and scents of our time in the fields, gardens, and greenhouses of our community.
Some young folks could only dream of owning all that responsibility — the feeding of a family, a community, or a nation and beyond. And born into most people is a desire to connect with the ground in some way, if even just to relax and recharge.
Farming is often geographically isolating and a very independent way to make a life and a living. For rural and urban young people who want to get in on the action, it can be a long successional runway or an abrupt dead end. And there is little space for the unification of all of the dreamers and schemers to find ready solutions.
Some regions have resolved this road in their own way. In British Columbia through the Young Agrarians’ Land Matching Program, adults wanting to farm are matched with landowners not fully utilizing their property. They can farm the land without buying it and receive support services as they navigate in the agricultural community. This brings two or more families together with the same intent of using the land for food production.
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Going a step further are food communities that grow food and live in proximity to it. These are communities where folks from all walks of life live and work together for the sowing, care, and harvest of food. They have a common goal or goals and work towards those as a unit. These are intentional communities.
An example of a highly functional and successful intentional community would be the Hutterite community, which has a specific purpose and vision that includes growing food and related industries while honouring their religious and social beliefs. Other intentional communities incorporate one vision, such as ecology, and are often referred to as ecovillages or they may be unified in agriculture or historical preservation.
A community west of me has chosen to live near and preserve a historical lighthouse. Another looks at land acquisition for the purpose of food security and housing within its town and yet another group chose to live in a space with the specific purpose of protecting an environmentally sensitive area. A farm in the U.K. houses families with the intent of healing (land and people) while some folks live in intentional educational hubs or bee production hubs.
It’s a new take on the old tribe, where folks lived together for a common purpose.
For young people in agriculture, it is becoming an attractive option. I most certainly found in my global studies that around the world, a repeated question was, ‘How do we get young people into food production and keep them there?’
In many countries, land is owned by church or state, by investment groups, or large companies. In many places, it is simply not available. The initial purchase of land often puts farmers into debt for life, leaving little for operational and living costs.
We need big farms, industrial farms, greenhouses, small farms, family farms, specialized farms, and creative farms. We need both experienced and new farmers. We need to use the land properly and incorporate animal agriculture, technology, science, and new varieties. Hardships such as the changes in regional climate are an invitation for exploration. And it is all doable.
The question is: What are we intentional in? To strike out and say we are intentional in the perfect head of lettuce, the ideal chicken breast, or the growth of the newest pulse is only a portion of a plan. The broader business must address areas such as your social intent or how what you do will impact yourself and those around you.
Healthy and intentional communities have a focus on social, environmental, political, economic, and cultural intent. Living in the same space does not grant you these and as any large family knows, it is a lot of work to ensure the continuous alignment with intent and fair treatment of all. The concept of sharing land or living on the same ‘street’ (so to speak) and sharing the same social space and resources is rather foreign to the independent nature of farming. Still, intentional communities are a growing movement in agriculture.
From an economic perspective, the preservation of the art and culture of agriculture might take some creative solutions and unique relationships with service providers and policy-makers. Listening to those diverse voices is critical in the future of food as we evaluate the imminent landscape and ask ourselves again, ‘What is our intent?’