Looking Ahead Into 2014, Long On Hope

Phil Srimangel     Yes, it is that time again.  A week from today we will be in the new year of 2014, so as I contemplate writing this last column of 2013 it is always good to look in the rearview mirror.   What were the big stories this past year and how will they transform into new things next year?  Or will there be that proverbial “unexpected Tuesday” to come along next year to make our lives so much more interesting?  Oh, if we only knew.  That’s what keeps it interesting; nobody knows what’s ahead.

Of course, as many of you know I often refer to an unexpected market changing events as that “unexpected Tuesday”.   Some people may call them “black swan” events, those things that come along seemingly out of nowhere, which the market didn’t expect sending commodities into directions nobody could foresee. In 2013, we really didn’t have anything like that, but we did have unexpected events that were extremely newsworthy.   One of the biggest this past year was the Lac Megantic, Quebec derailment, subsequent explosions, destruction and loss of life.

That was a lot like an “unexpected Tuesday for me.  I had woken up and had just got in front of my computer screen that July 6th morning when I heard about the terrible news coming from the small community of Lac Megantic Quebec.  Information was sketchy at that time but the derailment of oil tankers in the town actually vaporized several people with a death toll of approximately 47, some unaccounted for.  The town was devastated and for weeks after and still to this day the town has tried to recover.  It’s a story of tragedy but also a commodity story as oil moved by tank car versus pipeline is certainly part of the equation.  After the disaster many other municipalities in Canada were very reflective of oil moving through their communities.

That disaster certainly shook a portion of Québec farm country, which we don’t hear too much about in English Canada, but is still very important in Québec.  With the language barrier and the distance, it can be very easy to forget that type of tragedy.  So as I finish up 2013, just like I did last July, I like to say from southwestern Ontario to southern Québec the people of Lac Megantic will be remembered.

It was a tough summer for me because the rain never ended.  Crops don’t like wet feet and in my part of southwestern Ontario, it couldn’t have got much worse.  However, it was not so much in the rest of Ontario, which eventually pushed out a record corn yield of 160 bushels per acre.  Ontario soybean yield finished up at 45 bushels per acres.  Those were super yields on a tough year.  Out in Western Canada, crops were great.  We’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

So as 2013 comes to an end, I’m reading my friend Elaine Kub’s column, “Yes Virgil, Corn Will Be Profitable,” where Elaine writes about the probability that corn will be profitable to grow again.  Oh the pain, in 2013 corn went from $7.50 a bushel down to $3.80 a bushel.   That in my mind is one of the biggest stories of 2013, the cheapening of feed grains around the world.  We might not like it as farmers but it has totally changed the game in agriculture, just as much as it was changed when those prices were double.  We’ve got a corn demand renaissance going on right now.  It is building under a market environment of onerous supplies.  In 2014 we might not get under it, but eventually there will be a production hiccup where prices will turn up again.  However, for the moment 2013 will represent the year that feed grains slid into the soup.

I’m “Actively Farming as I Grow Older and When Will Someday Come Along”?   What am I talking about?  That was the title of one of my most popular columns I wrote this past year.  In fact, I had so much feedback from it that I can honestly say it was the most ever over a 28-year career.  In it I talked about farming as I grow older and how things are changing.  I wrote about how I wanted to write the end of the story and how the road ahead doesn’t necessarily get easier but usually much more complicated.  I must say that that journey continues.  I have a plan to farm at least 10 more years and I hope that I am healthy enough to get that done.

So as 2013 ends and 2014 begins I just want to give you something that from time to time is in short supply.  I want to give you hope.  I am going into my 28th year of writing this column and over that time I’ve seen just about everything.  In 2014 change will continue to be our only constant.  Key will be to meet every challenge like we have before.  There might even be a huge “unexpected Tuesday”.  From the flat farm country near Dresden Ontario, have a Happy New Year.  Let’s all look forward to a successful 2014.