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Keeping crop diversity key for farmers’ futures

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If the annual crop-production budgets produced by Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development are any indication, farmers have a long list of lucrative options when deciding what to grow this year.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/01/2022 (389 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If the annual crop-production budgets produced by Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development are any indication, farmers have a long list of lucrative options when deciding what to grow this year.

In the past, these annual spreadsheets have often been a sea of red ink, a warning — albeit not a prophecy, that farmers would have to beat the averages on yields or see a major market turnaround on just about every crop they grew if they hoped to make a profit.

That’s not the case for 2022. All but three of the 17 crops provincial extension staff included in their calculations show potential for profitable returns, a reflection of the tight supply situation created by last year’s drought and robust global demand.

Matt Goerzen / Brandon Sun files Canola was grown on 3.47 million acres in Manitoba last year, and ranks No. 4 in profitability in Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development's annual crop-production budget.

Prices have been at record levels for several key crops farmers here grow. However, so are the costs of growing them. In addition to unprecedented prices for fertilizer, and the potential for supply shortages of seed and other inputs, there is also the likelihood of rising interest rates. On top of all that, there is no telling whether last year’s drought will spill into this year too.

Higher numbers on the expense side mean higher risk in a business where all of the costs are upfront and the outcome is left to the whims of weather and the market.

If it was only about the best potential return, the fields would all be growing pinto beans next year, with a potential 35 per cent return on investment or $223 per acre net profit. Oats come in second at 30.4 per cent ROI or $147 per acre net profit followed by white beans at 20.85 per cent or $132 per acre net profit.

However, other than for oats, which covered 643,000 acres last year the acres devoted to these crops are minuscule compared to the top three crops in Manitoba: canola, hard red spring wheat and soybeans.

The Big Three combined have covered 78 per cent of the seeded acres in this province based on the five-year average of seeded acres.

Canola, grown on 3.47 million acres last year, is a no-brainer. Ranked No. 4 in profitability, it’s showing the potential for $130.75 net profit or a 23 per cent ROI.

Red spring wheat, at 2.54 million acres is ranked No. 8 with a $61.42 net profit or 11.5 ROI. Compared to other years, that’s still not a bad return, and wheat plays an important role in farmers’ rotations. Soybeans, which has become the third-largest crop grown in the province by acreage with 1.25 million acres, is a bit of a head-scratcher. Ranked No. 14 on the profitability scale it’s showing a net profit of just $8 an acre or a 1.7 per cent ROI, only slightly better than a savings account right now at the bank — with a whole lot more production risk.

The ones with the least profitability potential used to be mainstays: barley grown for feed or malting, kinds of wheat other than hard red spring, and sunflowers.

Overall, provincial data sets dating back to the 1960s show a steady decline in the diversity of crop rotations as farmers focus on a select few commodities. Granted, these are less complicated to manage, thanks to more production aids to help control pests and disease. There are more delivery and marketing options as well.

This is despite extensive research that shows that greater diversity in cropping practices improves soil health, increases yields and improves the farm’s resilience to weather and market disruptions.

Some even say it helps fight climate change. The U.S. government has recently granted $10 million to Purdue University to help wean farmers in the American Midwest off their almost sole reliance on corn and soybeans. The goal of that project is to increase production of small grains, forages, horticulture and livestock as a way of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The fact that there are 17 crops represented in the provincial crop budgets demonstrates that Manitoba farmers know how grow to a lot of different crops successfully. Now is not the time to let those skills slide.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at lrance@farmmedia.com

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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