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‘Harvest from hell’: Alberta farmers demanding action from government

WATCH: Alberta farmers are asking for aggressive action from the government on serious economic hardships following this year’s ‘harvest from hell’. Tiffany Lizee explains how poor harvest conditions, trade disputes and a looming federal carbon tax are all weighing on the agriculture industry in our province.

Alberta farmers are asking for aggressive action from the government on serious economic hardships following this year’s “harvest from hell.”

Poor harvest conditions, trade disputes and a looming federal carbon tax are all weighing on the agriculture industry.

Farmer David Reid checks on his Canola crop that is buried under snow near Cremona, Alta., Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.
Farmer David Reid checks on his Canola crop that is buried under snow near Cremona, Alta., Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Now the group Team Alberta is demanding increased urgency by governments to resolve the trade barriers and make immediate improvements to the Business Risk Management Programs (BRM) which are under currently under review.

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READ MORE: Farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan struggling to harvest snow-covered crops, while Manitoba saw ‘miracle’ snow melt

Team Alberta was formed four years ago and represents a working collaboration between Alberta’s four crop commissions: Alberta Barley, Alberta Canola, Alberta Pulse Growers and the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Dave Bishop with Alberta Barley said farmers are facing the perfect storm of devastating harvest conditions, trade uncertainty and a lack of support through programs that should be mitigating these challenges. John Guelly with Alberta Canola agrees.

“Farmers are experiencing the harvest from hell,” Guelly said.

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“Many of those in the worst hit areas won’t be able to get their crop off until the spring, which could push this year’s delays well into next year’s growing season. Aggressive action from our governments on trade, BRMs and the carbon tax is a must.”

READ MORE: Southern Alberta sugar beet farmers unable to harvest nearly half of 2019 crop

The group is asking for action on the following:

A carbon tax on farm fuels is expected in Alberta on Jan. 1, 2020 and would add extensive costs during an already difficult harvest. Luckily, the federal government has already committed to exemptions on marked farm fuel under the carbon pricing backstop.

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According to the latest crop report, about 11 per cent of all crops across the province remain unharvested, with five per cent in swath and six per cent standing.

The 2019 growing season marks the third year of drought in southern Alberta and excessive moisture in northern Alberta.

According to the Alberta crop report, this year’s wet conditions have resulted in 11 per cent of the crop still left in the fields. About 17 per cent of the canola crop, nearly 15 per cent of the potato crop and 45 per cent of the sugar beet crop are still standing.

The Peace Region still has 40 per cent of crops unharvested, as combines have been halted a number of times from cold weather, rain and snow. Some pockets in the Peace and several areas along Highway 2 have less than half of harvest complete.

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Canadian farmers facing ‘harvest from hell’
Canadian farmers facing ‘harvest from hell’

Grain that isn’t in the bin yet represents a total value of more than $778 million across the province.

“We can’t control the weather but it’s time for our governments to resolve the political issues that we can control,” said Don Shepert with Alberta Pulse Growers.

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Shepert added that not only are Alberta farmers facing trade barriers, but their competitors in the U.S. are receiving a third round of government payouts.

A meme created by Suits and Boots’ #StandUpToChina campaign alludes to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
A meme created by Suits and Boots’ #StandUpToChina campaign alludes to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. http://www.suitsandboots.ca

READ MORE: China lifting meat ban ‘a good first step’ for canola: producers association

Beyond the less-than-ideal conditions, major trade disruptions have also made this season particularly difficult for farmers; blocking farm exports into important global markets and business risk management programs weren’t prepared to mitigate the issues.

Sarah Pittman, a policy analyst at the Canada West Foundation, said there’s no real indication that the trade dispute will end anytime soon. She said although the pork and beef dispute wrapped up at the beginning of November, that had a lot more to do with meat demand in China than an end to the overall dispute.

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“So for canola and soy beans, I think it’s going to take quite a bit longer to get that resolved,” said Pittman.

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Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen acknowledges that harvest 2019 has been tough for farmers.

“Trade disputes, bad weather and high input costs have added up to be a difficult year. With all the uncertainty, Alberta farmers can count on their government to find efficiencies and fund BRM programs, fight carbon taxes and promote free trade,” the minister said.

Team Alberta is encouraged by the provincial agriculture minister’s acknowledgement of the severity of the harvest situation and says this is a good start.

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Southern Alberta sugar beet farmers unable to harvest nearly half of 2019 crop
Southern Alberta sugar beet farmers unable to harvest nearly half of 2019 crop

Agriculture Financial Services (AFSC) is hosting a series of town halls in various communities across Alberta to address concerns from local farmers regarding the state of unharvested crops.

AFSC said it understands the stress and uncertainty this situation can create while farmers wait for field conditions to improve and harvest to be completed.

Town halls will be held from Nov. 18 to Nov. 20 and details are available on their website.

READ MORE: Slow harvest and mental health a concern for Alberta farmers

“This is the kind of uncertainty that’s bigger than farm business cash flow. The weight of these combined challenges starts to threaten farmers’ mental health,” said Alberta Wheat Commission chair Gary Stanford.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call the Alberta Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642 (toll free) or visit the Do More Agriculture Foundation’s website. The agency focuses on the mental well-being of Canadian producers.