The Strasbourg and District growing project in Saskatchewan managed to get their 100-acre crop of wheat off on the last good day before the big snows came. The project brought in between 60 and 70 bushels an acre, an unexpectedly high yield. (L-R: Kelvin Schapansky, John de Hoop, David and Kevin Craswell, and Elaine Hack who donated the land.)
It’s a phrase often uttered after a challenging growing season. It was no doubt uttered quite a bit this year in Canada, as farmers across the country had to contend with a vast array of unruly conditions.
Over 200 growing projects across Canada saw farmers and farm supporters come together to plant, tend and harvest a crop to help people experiencing hunger around the world. Weather varied regionally, from farmers having bountiful harvests in some areas to others relying on crop insurance to help recover losses.
Wet conditions plague parts of eastern Canada
It was an exceptionally trying time for farmers in the Maritimes.
Hurricane Dorian, with heavy rains and winds topping 120 kilometres an hour, inflicted widespread damage when it passed through in early September—flattening crops, damaging fields and blowing fruit from trees.
It’s the first time we’ve ever had a crop failure.”
— Douglas Rollwage, Lead Minister at Zion Presbyterian Church
“This was a tough year,” says Douglas Rollwage, Lead Minister at Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “Our church has supported three or four growing projects each year since we started doing this 12 years ago. Unfortunately, one project couldn’t harvest their soybeans this year. It’s the first time we’ve ever had a crop failure.”
“It was a pretty terrible year, to be honest,” says Kent Myers, volunteer Foodgrains Bank representative in P.E.I. “But you have to hand it to everyone involved with these growing projects. They stepped up in the face of adversity and most still got their crops off. Churches and other community supporters have increased their donations too, after hearing about the challenges growing projects are facing.”
In Ontario and Quebec, there are more than 100 growing projects, and five new ones this year.
“It was a reasonably good summer with good heat and lots of water,” says Mackie Robertson with the Char-Lan growing project in Lancaster, Ontario. “But it’s been a trying fall. We had very early snow mid-November, which stayed on the ground. Our 25-acre soybean field was lucky to get 45 bushels per acre off just before the snow came.”
Season of reoccurring challenges further west
Further west on the Prairies, a dry growing season was just one of the challenges.
One of our farmers…said this was the driest season since the Dirty Thirties”
—Gordon Janzen, Foodgrains Bank regional representative
“One of our farmers north of Winnipeg said this was the driest season since the Dirty Thirties,” says Gordon Janzen, Foodgrains Bank regional representative in Manitoba. “That farmer had to cultivate and re-seed some of their corn and sunflowers because germination was so poor.”
When the Abundant Harvest growing project near Steinbach held its annual harvest banquet on November 12, it was the first time in their nine years of operation that farmers were still trying to complete harvest. Instead of farming one communal piece of land, farmers in the project each donate a portion of proceeds from their own fields.
“In September we had three to four times the amount of normal rainfall, so it’s been hard to keep our equipment ‘above water,’ as they say,” says Ed Peters who volunteers with the project. “Normally we’re done by the first week of November at the latest, and this year it might be mid-December.”
Farmers in Saskatchewan were singing from the same songbook as their Manitoba counterparts.
“It was a bizarre year. We seeded wheat on 100 acres and it was extremely dry at the start, so germination was poor,” says Kelvin Schapansky, chair of the Strasbourg and District growing project. “Mid-June we finally started getting rains and the crop eventually came up. Getting it off was tough because we had a very small window, but we managed to get to it on the last good day before the big snows.”
This season has taken an emotional toll on farmers.”—Rick Block, Foodgrains Bank regional representative
“This season has taken an emotional toll on farmers,” says Rick Block, Foodgrains Bank regional representative in the province. “Yet there’s still much to be thankful for.”
“We’ve been blessed because land and inputs for our project are almost all donated, so all profit goes directly to the Foodgrains Bank,” says Schapansky. “We love that the money doesn’t just help provide emergency food but is also used to teach people to grow food.”
Quality of some crops declines
Further west in Alberta, it was the tale of two regions. While the far south had a mostly typical growing season, it was much of the same headaches in the mid and northern regions.
“After rain every 15 minutes throughout the year, 58 per cent of our crops were damaged because of hail,” says Terry Shenher of the North East growing project in Bonnyville, Alberta. “We harvested about 50 bushels per acre, which is not bad, but it was 20 per cent moisture so we had to pay for it to be dried as well.”
Doug Maas, Central Alberta growing project committee member, says his project grew 70 acres of wheat that generated 70 bushels per acre.
“And we only got $5 a bushel, because it wasn’t number one or two grade—it was feed grade. If conditions are good, we typically get number one,” says Maas.
In southern Alberta, where elements are somewhat less of a factor because many projects have irrigation, not all were immune.
“The famous Taber corn was all wiped out by hail,” says Maas. “It’s the first year that people weren’t selling Taber corn out of their pickups.”
Resolve to help end hunger remains strong
When farmers face a trying season, so, too, does the Foodgrains Bank.
“We rely on the health and vitality of growing projects to fund our efforts to help families in need of food,” says Musu Taylor-Lewis, director of resources and public engagement with the Foodgrains Bank. “We hope others will join us in praying for those who have faced difficulties this year.”
Taylor-Lewis remains impressed with the efforts of farmers, churches, donors and supporters who contributed to growing projects in 2019.
“It’s amazing to see how Canadians still manage to find the time to make a difference for others around the world, when they are facing their own struggles.”
Indeed, farmers across Canada faced many challenges in 2019 but still found it in their hearts to help others in need. Now THAT’s farming.
– Jason Permanand, Writer