Recent articles of Laura Rance
The only clarity to emerge in the eight months that have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine is that there is no end in sight.
Everyone can agree this war has profound implications for grain markets and global food security. However, our understanding of how fundamentally this conflict is changing the geopolitics of food is just starting to evolve.
The numbers tell us this region is a significant player in the global food trade. An analysis released this week by Farmers Business Network (FBN) says Russia and Ukraine typically account for about 29 per cent of global wheat exports, 32 per cent of barley exports, 19 per cent of rapeseed (canola) exports and 17 per cent of corn exports.
We can see how supply chains are disrupted. While grain exports from the region were almost non-existent in the days and weeks following the invasion, they have resumed on a limited basis. FBN estimates Russia’s exports were still off 29 per cent and Ukraine’s by 46 per cent during the period of July through September.
With an incoming weather system expected to dump between 50 and 70 millimetres of rain and wet snow on southern Manitoba next week, the push is on across agro-Manitoba this weekend.
There’s much left to do before winter arrives to stay. Whether it’s harvesting the late-season crops such as corn and soybeans or the tardy ones such as a few remaining fields of canola and oats, applying fertilizer, cleaning out slurry tanks or hauling hay, these golden days of October have made it easier for farmers to whittle down the autumn “to-do” list.
Producers this week finally caught up to the five-year-average of having more than 90 per cent of their harvest completed by now, which was no small feat given that spring seeding ran about three weeks late due to the cool, wet conditions.
The remaining fields become much harder to harvest, however. Everything takes longer to dry and mature as the days get shorter and temperatures drop. The grain is more apt to require post-harvest aeration or drying, which takes more time and resources.
Newly published Manitoba research into the merits of recycled phosphorus could help reframe the multi-faceted debate around how farmers can sustainably feed the crops that produce our food.
The notion of recycling phosphorus is still fairly foreign in modern agriculture, but it’s gaining new traction as we come to grips with our Jekyll-and-Hyde relationship with this vital nutrient. On one hand phosphorus is contaminating our waterways and creating expensive wastewater treatment issues for the City of Winnipeg.
On the other, it is a non-renewable resource that we can’t afford to be treating as waste. Known phosphate rock reserves, none of which are located in Canada, are expected to be depleted within the next 140 years. What’s more, because Canadian farmers export most of what they grow, they are continuously drawing down the phosphorus banked in their soils.
The problem is particularly acute for organic farmers, who were the focus for a research team from the University of Manitoba. They can’t use the commercially produced fertilizer products, so unless they have local access to manure, they risk running their soils out of phosphorus.
LANGHAM, Sask. — It’s a given that farmers don’t flock to an outdoor farm show to hang out in a tent and listen to speakers. Unless of course, it’s raining.
The field demonstrations featuring big seeding and tillage equipment, spot-spraying drones, artificial intelligence and various expressions of autonomous agriculture drew spectators by the thousands at Ag in Motion here this week. The show returned to being a live event after two years of pandemic-induced measures that kiboshed most in-person events.
These new innovations on display focus on making agriculture more efficient, more productive, more precise and more environmentally sustainable. In theory at least, all of those things combined could put more money in farmers’ pockets, but there are usually significant upfront investments involved.
For farmers looking for a break from the hot sun or just a fresh take on managing their business, the speaker sessions were a treasure trove of ideas for how they can make more money with a minimum of capital investment. However, it takes time and a commitment to doing things a little differently.
If burgers-on-the-barbecue for Canada Day weekend was a tradition before, it was cemented as a cultural point of pride in 2003 as Canadians rallied in support of beleaguered ranchers shunned by world markets.
Countries had closed their borders to Canadian beef after a cow that died on an Alberta farm was found to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease. Beef was piling up in warehouses and cattle became unsaleable virtually overnight.
Canadians, at the urging of their government leaders, rose to the challenge in a brave but unrealistic bid to do their civic duty and eat the industry back to prosperity a burger or two at a time.
A couple of decades later, Canadians have been getting a very different message about eating ground beef, whether it’s in burgers or lasagna.
One thing I dread about spring, aside from its slowness to arrive, is the wind.
Invariably before crops get established, we get a series of major wind events that cause soil to move, shearing off the newly emerging plants, and filling ditches with dirt, the air with fine particles and our teeth with grit.
These events are far less damaging than they used to be because farmers are doing a better job, especially on the Prairies, at keeping their soils anchored, either with the previous year’s stubble or cover crops.
However, a new report released this week by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada and the Compost Council of Canada underscores the emerging reality that good soil management is about much more than keeping it intact as a growth medium.
Sometimes, column-writing is like getting into a car and going for a drive, not quite knowing where you are going to end up.
That was the case for me a few weeks ago amid the Ottawa occupation, when truckers and assorted other protesters took their unhappiness on a whole bunch of issues to Canada’s capital, set up camp and refused to leave.
As I mentioned in the column that emerged, it was the sight of farm equipment mixed in with transport trucks, campers and assorted other vehicles at the city events and at the border-crossing protests that prompted me to collect my thoughts around this cheeky display.
I felt then, as I do now, that it reflected poorly on farmers and that it threatened to undermine the millions of dollars the industry has invested defending agriculture’s image to an increasingly skeptical public.
Mounting international tensions over Russia’s escalating encroachment on Ukraine seem far removed from a Prairie farm family going about their daily business.
However, as this week’s events unfolded, it became disturbingly clear how those seemingly disparate realities could converge.
Just as two cybersecurity experts were delivering a webinar to raise farmers’ awareness that Canada’s agri-food system is considered part of critical infrastructure and that makes them targets for cybersecurity attacks, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security was issuing this alert.
“The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security encourages the Canadian cybersecurity community — especially critical infrastructure network defenders — to bolster their awareness of and protection against Russian state-sponsored cyber threats.”