Putting a Tough Year in Perspective – Claire Cowan

It’s been a tough year for farmers here in Ontario. As a sopping wet spring lead its way into a dry, hot summer, things aren’t looking overly optimistic for the upcoming harvest. Corn and soybean fields across the province are hugely variable in terms of development and stand but where we find variability we also find a united need for rain. Corn is starting to spike up and soybeans are struggling to close the canopy as almost the entire province eagerly watches the Doppler in hopes for a smattering of rain.

But, as Ontario farmers eye the sky with hope, an entirely different forecast is being played out across the world. Famine has officially been declared in parts of Somalia after local farmers have seen little to no rain in the past year. The rainy season that typically begins in October and lasts till December failed completely this past year and the second rainy season the country’s farmers count on from April through June was meager. These two weather failures combined with the explosive political climate of a country that is considered a “failed state” has launched a famine that rivals the one seen in the early 1990s – which ultimately resulted in military action and two US Black Hawk helicopters being shot down in Mogadishu.

Already tens of thousands have died as a result of malnutrition and the upcoming August harvest in the most affected areas is anticipated to be at best 50 percent of the five-year average. Livestock production is also important in the country but pasture availability is significantly decreased as a result of the drought.

These stark facts are easy to ignore as we are bombarded every day with news of dire situations threatening lives throughout the world. But, as farmers, this crisis can’t help but hit home. You will not find a farmer in any part of the world that is disrespectful to the swings – both high and low – that Mother Nature can throw at us.

Fortunately in Canada, these swings do not often result in life and death realities. A tough year in Canada means that we rework our plans for the upcoming year: explore new marketing strategies and reconsider our fertility plans. Canadian farmers have access to some of the world’s best inputs and expert advice from local researchers.

When a tough year is compounded with a natural disaster like a flood or drought, Canadian farmers are more fortunate than most to have the infrastructure – both political and physical – to manage these challenges. A crop failure in one part of the country does not result in malnutrition and famine.

Although Canadian agriculture certainly has many faults and many areas that need improvement, it’s important to take a step back every once in a while and be proud and thankful for all that our industry has to offer.

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Claire Cowan

Editor of the Ontario Grain Farmer magazine - Grain Farmers of Ontario's flagship publication. Interested in farming, agriculture and food.

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