AgDays, Canada’s largest indoor farm show, revised my impressions about Canadian and American agriculture, and to some extent all agriculture, when I attended the January 21-23 event.  I was invited to speak at the farm show and to provide a workshop on agricultural behavioral health to healthcare professionals and farmers.

AgDays, held annually in Brandon, Manitoba, attracted 500 exhibitors and about the same number of visitors (36,000) as last year despite cold weather.  Frequently, I heard comments like “It’s always coldest when AgDays is held,” and “When it’s too cold to work outside, farmers come to AgDays.”

AgDays drew most of its visitors from Canada’s Prairie Provinces and the Upper U.S. Midwest.  While similar to an American power farming show, AgDays also offered workshops on topics of interest ranging from worker compensation insurance, to the latest canola production advances and my own talk about managing stress to be optimally productive farmers.

Many younger farmers exhibited heady exhilaration as they inspected the newest and biggest farm machinery.  There were plenty half million dollar tractors and combines with forty foot grain heads on display, and other machinery.  

Eager cattle producers and crop scouts checked out global positioning systems to manage livestock and fields.  Dignified Hutterite families gathered for lively discussions about farming equipment innovations.  Collegiate and high school agriculture students trolled the hallways of the huge facility, happy to be out of the classroom and perhaps happy also to meet similarly interested persons of the opposite sex.

I attended a seminar through Skype offered by a lawyer from Germany about how to set up international trade offices in the Ukraine, Russia and Germany where he is registered to practice law.  He spoke impeccable English and was fluent also in Russian, French and German.

A Dutch agriculture consultant with offices in Nigeria, Sweden and the Netherlands offered his ideas and services through electronic media as well.  Various booths were staffed by persons from all over the world.

I felt at home as I scrutinized 75 bulls from all the major cattle breeds that seed stock producers were displaying to generate interest in upcoming sales.  I especially liked a thickly-made 2,450 pound Polled Hereford with the now-required eye patches and superior performance numbers.

What did I learn?  Foremost, agricultural trade clearly is international in scope, and the competition is intense.

Second, most Manitoba farmers had a good year in 2013 with excellent yields of most crops.  Their crop receipts increased 29 percent; livestock receipts advanced three percent over the previous year.

Recently, Canadian grain prices have turned downward, like U.S. prices.  Wheat on the “open market” and not subject to provincial wheat board approvals was being tendered on January 22 at $4.71 per bushel, well below U.S. prices; soybeans were more than a dollar below the U.S. market.

Although cattle producers were doing okay, prices for feedlot-ready steers were $200 below U.S. prices and high quality first-calf heifers and young bred cows were selling mostly in the $1,500-1,800 range, well below what similar quality animals are bringing in the U.S.  This does not take into account that the Canadian dollar is currently worth about ninety cents on the U.S. dollar.

Like American crop producers, most Canadian farmers are heading into an era of belt-tightening; the length of the economic retraction is unknown.  Like in the U.S., Canadian agricultural land prices recently reversed their upward trend in most areas.  

Canada did not undergo the severe recession that the general U.S. economy experienced after 2008 and is now slowly crawling out of.  Canadian grain production expanded slower than in the U.S., where grain prices and acreage have boomed for several years until recently.  Canadian livestock and dairy production advanced slowly and net incomes were mostly positive, while in the U.S. many meat and dairy producers only recently achieved black instead of red bottom lines.

Organic farming in Canada is not burgeoning as much as in the U.S., although many consumers are conscious of the issues than make organic foods popular.  Many Canadian farmers are experimenting with sustainable practices that might not reach U.S. organic standards, but are practical.

Canadian farmers are highly attuned to world agricultural markets, even more than most American farmers.  They pay particular attention to what goes on with U.S. agricultural policy and research.

The attitude of the Canadian farmers I talked to indicates they are remarkably open to doing what they need to do in order to remain viable and productive, including taking care of their behavioral health.  Most look at managing their behaviors as an aid to dealing with difficult stresses and uncertain conditions over which they have little control.  Good behavioral health, they feel, helps them achieve optimal production.  

While I was waiting in the office of the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services between “television takes,” their telephone hotline counselors answered three calls from troubled farmers.  Their provincially and federally supported program offers telephone and online counseling from trained providers who understand agriculture.  It works for them.


–by Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

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