‘Crop touring’ has many connotations in the rural world.
Historically, apart from the long-established tradition of checking out neighbouring farmers’ fields, there was the socially-based, if ill-advised exercise involving a cooler and gravel roads.
“Different type of crop tour,” emphasized Devin Homick, Grain Origination Coach with Great Lakes Grain (GLG)/FS PARTNERS.
Homick is an enthusiastic participant in the GLG crop assessment tour, which for the past 14 years has represented a field assessment to gauge potential corn and soybean yield across South-Western and Eastern Ontario.
“Out and about,” smiled Homick, who got as far afield as Prescott and Russell Counties, sipping on, to be clear, nothing stronger than tea. “Don’t judge on that,” he laughed. “Never learned to drink coffee.”
The tour occurs during the last week of August and first of September, covering around 800 Ontario fields in total, taking a physical sample from four separate locations in each.
The corn sample is based on 1/1,000th of an acre, which in practical terms, assumes historic 30-inch rows, translating into counting the kernels (based on cob length and kernels around) for four cobs from a randomly-selected 17 foot, five-inch portion of a row, specifically the third, seventh, eleventh and twenty-second cobs.
For soybeans, a 21-inch stick is dropped, and depending on variable row widths from seven inches (solid), 15 inches or 30 inches, all pods within four, two or one rows, respectively, are counted, a measure representing 1/10,000th of an acre.
“And that’s how we come up with a population estimate,” said Homick
The count is completed in preparation for Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, with results announced there. Reasons for this considerable effort begin with giving the company’s end users an idea as to what the crop size might be. Secondly, it’s a chance for representatives like Homick to get out with the farmers, show others what their fields are doing and what their expectations might be.
Finally, from a marketing perspective, it gives GLG an idea of crop size, which helps in strategic operational planning for the 28 elevators in the system. And while measuring 800 samples of this size might seem to include a plethora of variables, results have proven ‘pretty good’ over the past number of years.
“We have an idea of what we’re into,” says Homick. “What the potential size of this crop is.”
This year’s good news would be, that from that tour, ideal growing conditions ‘for the most part’ are anticipated to result in a bountiful harvest.
“We had the lowest May rainfall on record especially in the London area, and yet, we probably will have the highest yielding corn crop on record, is our estimation.”
Overall production is entirely another thing said Homick, depending on how many acres of corn were planted.
“The yield (per acre) will be big, but let’s say if we planted 1.8-million acres instead of last year’s 2.2-million, that’s a discrepancy of 400,000 acres.”
Of course, farming being farming, no forecast can be too rosy, Homick hearing challenges which always seem to arise include vomitoxin or ‘DON’, starting to set in. It was not in evidence during the tour period.
“But as this crop was late to mature we’ve started to see the onset now. Guys are having challenges now.”
There is a corn-friendly solution which could however, present difficulties for other farmers.
“Now the crop is for the most part finished, as in reached maturity, for corn, a killing frost wouldn’t be a terrible thing.”
Also of concern is the advent of Bill C234, the federal carbon tax. Its provisions include exemptions for farmers with regards to livestock heating and/or grain drying. This effectively exempts many western farmers says Homick, who tend to dry crops on their own properties.
“The challenge with C234 is it doesn’t exempt commercials and probably two-thirds of the farmers in Ontario utilize commercial grain dryers.”
Homick anticipates costs will be passed down to the farmers.
“It makes it an unfair market for farmers that utilize commercial drying.”
With regards to soybeans in the tour area, Homick is anticipating a ‘good crop.
“Not bumper we don’t feel, but overall a good crop.”
White mould seems to be a bit of an issue, late summer rains and a lush canopy representing contributing factors.
“Farmers continue to do a good job of meeting that challenge with the utilization of fungicides.”
Homick also identified a new European Union (EU) Deforestation Policy on the horizon for 2024. Essentially targetting large deforestation in other areas of the planet, its provisions are also expected to impact, for example, Ontario farmers growing on cleared fencerows or what previously was woodlot.
“If you planted a bean on those areas, technically those beans can’t hit that market, which could limit a farmer’s flexibility.”
The new rules will incorporate anything done after 2020 onward says Homick, who does believe there may be some flexibility in interpretation.
“The EU wants to make sure product is from a sustainable farm.”
The criteria could also represent an advantage for Ontario’s farmers he agreed, given contemporary practices fall well within those guidelines.
“For the most part, Ontario farmers are excellent stewards of the land.”
Finally, Homick can speak to one of the largest wheat crops planted in Ontario which is already harvested, rather than largely still in the field.
“Yields were excellent and quality was exceptional. It was a great crop of wheat, it really was.”
Last year, commodity prices reached historical highs, corn hitting $9.15 a bushel and beans $20.60. As of October 11th, new-crop corn sat at $5.98, new-crop beans at $16.07 and old-crop wheat $6.31.
“Historically, these are still really good prices,” said Homick.
The question is, where does the net lie against a solid gross, given inflationary pressure on many inputs. In short, does the return offset the costs?
“I think the net margins have been pinched from fairly record net numbers, it’s definitely backed off,” Homick concluded. “But Ontario farmers are still seeing very good numbers.