Greenhouse Canada

Farmers may have tough row to hoe

May 17, 2010  By Jennifer Graham The Canadian Press

May 17, 2010, Regina  – By his own description, Norm
Nordgulen is “just a poor cowboy’’ trying to adapt and survive on the


May 17, 2010, Regina  – By his own description, Norm
Nordgulen is “just a poor cowboy’’ trying to adapt and survive on the farm.

The Saskatchewan man says he’s made
a lot of changes to save money. Nordgulen grows his own hay because it’s a
cheaper way to feed about 125 head of cattle he has in his operation near

About a decade ago he switched to organic
farming of lentils, peas, wheat, durum and flax. “One of the big reasons I’m
still here is I’m organic farming,’’ says Nordgulen. “I don’t have the chemical
inputs. My biggest input is fuel (to run machinery), so I save tens of
thousands on chemical inputs. “I would not have been able to survive this long
without that.’’

Nordgulen’s feeling that
“everybody’s got to adjust’’ seems fitting in light of the latest farm income
forecast from Agriculture Canada. The agency quietly released its 2010 predictions
in late April, two months later than usual. It said realized net income for
farmers across Canada is expected to total $291.5 million — a 91 per cent drop
from 2009.

“Canada’s farm sector was not immune
to the global economic downturn. In fact, global economic conditions have a
far-reaching effect on farm income,’’ the forecast reads. “The global recession
has left producers facing lower consumer demand for their products — red meats
in particular.’’

The agency says the livestock
sectors will continue to struggle. Cattle farms are expected to lose an average
of $5,195 in 2010 — a drop largely blamed on country-of-origin labelling
regulations for meat products in the United States and a strong Canadian

In Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario, net
operating incomes for hog producers are expected to be below historical
averages this year, mainly because increases in expenses are outpacing higher
receipts and program payments. And, after record income years in 2008 and 2009,
the net income of the average grain and oilseed farm is expected to drop,
“having an impact on the overall farm income outlook.’’

Some provinces will feel the hit
more than others. Agriculture Canada forecasts that realized net income for
farmers in Alberta will be negative $516.3 million this year — a 254 per cent
drop from $334.9 million in profit in 2009. In Saskatchewan, the realized net
farm income is expected to total $980 million — a 55 per cent drop from the
$2.2 billion forecast in 2009.

While numbers are expected to be
down across the country, it’s still fixing to be a better than average year.
The forecast drop for 2010 appears worse because 2008 and 2009 were record
income years.

Greg Marshall, president of the
Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, says the forecast is

“Nobody likes to be staring a
decrease in income in the face, but actually it’s no real surprise,’’ says
Marshall. “I guess we all kind of expected that this was coming with the
increase in input costs and lower commodity prices and the lack of support from
existing safety net programs.’’

Marshall says he was astounded at Agriculture
Canada’s predictions. “We’re providing sustenance to people, producing food,
and when you see a 91 per cent drop right across the nation, that’s scary.’’

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
says the recession caused a big drop in demand for high-value cuts of beef in
North America and the rising dollar also hurt producers.

Association president Travis Toews
said producers have faced several difficult years. He noted some have left the
industry and others are working to keep costs down.

But Toews is trying to look on the
bright side. “Given the tightness of cattle supplies in North America, there is
some agreement that when we do begin to emerge from this recession that we’re
going to see a real improvement in pricing,’’ he said. “So I am cautiously
optimistic that we’re going to round this corner at some point. I think we’re
seeing some signs in the market today that could point to the fact that it may
not be that long in coming.’’

Nordgulen says he’s taken “a good
hit’’ in the past, but he also expects prices to increase this year. The
Saskatchewan farmer says he’ll ride it out and keep working the same piece of
land that has been in his family since 1907.

“What else is there to do? This is what I like doing. We’ve been here
now 103 years. I really don’t want to be the last one here to turn out the
lights so I’m doing whatever I can to stay here.’’

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