As things have slowed down for us over the holidays, it has given time for me to reflect on the year that was. I can’t remember a time of more trying and yet exciting times. From weather to politics, there was something for everyone to talk about. Here is my list of the good and the bad from 2011.
How can you have a conversation about 2011 without talking about the weather. It was one of the toughest winters anyone can remember. The never ending snow took its toll on everyone. Farmers couldn’t get grain out of their bins. Snow built up in feedyards so bad that trackhoes had to be called out just to get cattle fed. When winter finally broke and spring decided it should show up, farmers were faced with their next disaster. The melting snow created a mess that most of us had never seen. Water melted and had nowhere to go. Those feedyards that were battered by winter storms unthawed and the cattle were up to their bellies in mud for months. Entire farmyards were submerged in water along with bins full of grain. I can remember going for an air tour of Southern Alberta in the early part of April, when we are usually seeding and thinking to myself, “this crop is not going to get put in the ground”.
To make things worse, rains in April compounded the problems we were already facing. Cattle were not gaining any weight, when it looked like we might be able to get the machinery in the field it was a never ending job of pulling machinery out of the mud tens of thousands of acres in Western Canada went unseeded. Roads were unpassable and the stress from everything that was out of our control made everyday life miserable.
As spring turned into summer, the rain completely vanished in some areas and crops had to do everything to tap into what moisture was in the soil. I still wonder what kind of crop we would have had if 2 inches of rain might have come in the middle July. Feedlots were finally able to begin the monumental task of rebuilding pens that had been virtually destroyed because of the massive amounts of water. Farmers that could, feverishly irrigated to keep the crops they were able to get seeded as healthy as possible.
Fall was soon upon us and we were finally given a break. After playing catch up for the past 9 months, farmers were finally gaining the upper hand. Harvest came off at break neck speeds. Long windows of no rain enabled us to get off the crops, and what was harvested was some of the best quantity and quality grain the west has seen in years. Fall field work was completely finished in most areas and everyone was going back into winter in reasonably good shape.
That is if winter ever comes. Six weeks of relentless wind has kept temperatures well above seasonal values. It has fanned fires that have threatened farms, cities and burned thousands of acres of stubble and pasture. Lets hope some moisture is in store for us in the new year.
It has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride for those of us that rely on the commodity futures. In the past 6 months, we have seen corn go from $6 to $8 back to below $6. Most other crops followed the corn thru these same swings. Same can be said with cattle. In August, the Canadian fat market was in the high $90 range and it rocketed to just below $120. US debt crisis and worries over the Euro zone had a big hand in this as well as USDA numbers showing there were more coarse grains worldwide than was previously thought. You have to have nerves of steel to make it from one day to the next when you are living off of highs and lows like this. The one thing that it does teach us is that we are not immune from what is going on in the rest of the world. More and more we are seeing how connected the world economy is.
Tied in with this is the skyrocketing prices of land. Over the past 18 months we have watched as the value of land has been on the move. My only hope is that this is sustainable. We are not that far removed from a time when it was tough enough to pay for our inputs and the 15 year old mortgage payments on the land we had.
In May Canadians finally got a majority government. We were finally going to be able to have a functioning government again. The best part about it was the Conservatives won and consequently the writing was on the wall for the Canadian Wheat Board. After a ridiculous campaign by the Wheat Board to keep it in place supported by Liberals, NDP and the Communist Party of Canada, marketing freedom for Western Canadian wheat farmers was finally here. In mid December, legislation was passed and we were free to do what we want with our new crop. I still believe that there is a place for the CWB to co-exist in an open market. I truely hope that the former board of the CWB didn’t do so much damage that they are unable upright the ship and survive over the long term.
With all that has happened this past year, there is one thing that I always cling to. No matter how bad my day was, no matter how much I feel like sometimes maybe all this just isn’t worth the headache, I still have my family. There is nothing like being able to come home after not seeing my kids for a week because of the long days and them running out and giving you a big hug. I have to thank my wife Jen for sticking by my side, no matter what kind of mood I’m in and how bad my day was. Take the time to get away and be with your family. Don’t get overly worked up about things that are not in your control. I often get asked how I am able to get away in the summer and spend time with family and friends. As long as things aren’t overly crazy, I just do it. In a business where its always go, go, go, this is the one thing that keeps me you sane and happy.
I wish everyone the best in 2012 and remember, in the end, your health and family are all that matter.