Every year, Agri-Trade marks the unofficial launch point for the next growing season. Most years, farmers have the crop in the bin, they have a good idea of their income or loss on the year, and they come to the annual show at Red Deer with a decent idea on areas of improvement for their farming operation.
At the show this year, I took in two days and talked to many farmers and clients to get a feel for what is top of mind heading into the winter season. From these discussions I came up with a few takeaways after talking to farmers and suppliers at the show.
- Farmers are optimistic considering the harvest adversity – The 2018 growing season had all the extremes imaginable in Western Canada. Depending on where you farm, there was a wet spring, the second year of drought, and a snowy or rainy harvest that has greatly impacted quality. Even with all of that, the spirit of farmers was up and quite positive. When asked about this optimistic spirit, a farmer said to me, “2019 is bound to be a better year.”
- Steel tariffs are a concern to the industry – Depending on how your favourite machinery manufacturer buys its steel, the concern over the United States Section 232 steel tariffs and the reciprocal tariffs applied by Canada have worked their way into conversation between the companies and farmers. The impact is varied, but the longer these tariffs are in place the higher the probability that the prices of new equipment are impacted, which will be a negative for farmers.
- Crop rotations are important but money talks in this environment – In winter meetings, farmers always hear about the benefit of healthy crop rotations. For a majority of growers the intent is there to have a healthy rotation but the closer we get to seeding time, adjustments happen — usually driven by profit potential. With the trade issues Canada has with India on pulses and Italy on durum, growers are contemplating a reduction in acres for durum and pulses depending on how successful Canada can be in finding substitute markets. Additionally there is an expected decrease in soybean acres if spring weather patterns have a dry bias again. There could be even more pressure on growers to seed more canola on short rotations.
- There is a general assumption that Italy and India trade issues will be sorted out – When I asked growers about India and Italian trade issues, there is a general sense of optimism that the issues will be rectified. This speaks to the positive attitude that growers have in general. Anecdotally, I would say that most growers agree that the Indian tariffs are more solvable than the Italy COOL issue. Much of this speculation is hope rather than insight but like I said in the previous bullet point, farmers will watch the issue closely before putting more durum or pulses in the ground.
- Broadband access might be the biggest threat to farms implementing technology – When you walk around Agri-Trade, or any show in North America for that matter, precision agriculture’s presence in square footage grows all the time. Many growers are still trying to find the right product fit given their individual farms context but broadband access continues to hold back implementation. Rural broadband access is an issue that must be sorted out. Having 3G or 4G is a disadvantage no matter how much you are using data analysis on your farm. It’s encouraging to see a few companies wandering the show to see how they can help make broadband a rural advantage instead of disadvantage.
If you feel like I missed something at the show that was a major takeaway for you, send me an email at [email protected] or call the RealAg listener line at 855.776.6147.