Quebec Agriculture: Dairy, Hogs, Corn, Soybeans and That Collective Soul

quebec-flag1    Next week I’ll be travelling to St Hyacinthe Quebec, one of the premier agricultural areas in Eastern Canada.  I’ll be speaking on the grains to farmers and end-users from across the province.  The last time I spoke to Quebec farmers was April 5th, 2006.  That day 6000 Quebec farmers marched onto Parliament Hill from Hull Quebec.  Watching them come onto Parliament Hill that day in masse is something that I will never forget.

You’ve heard me say it many times.  Quebec farmers are the best-organized and most dynamic farmers in Canada.  Their agricultural economy is very strong, their cohesion the envy of the rest of Canadian farm country.  It is unfortunate because of our language difference that we don’t talk to each other much.  I feel fortunate that as a unilingual English speaker, I’ve spent quite a bit of time there.  Next week I’ll venture back into that world, and I’m sure, I’ll bring back much more than I give.  Quebec is a nation within Canada, and one I’m very proud of.

Quebec is a grains exporter.  In Ontario we muse about our corn production all the time.  We produced about 340 million bushels, most of which we consume ourselves.  However, since October 2012, we’ve had so much corn around, we’ve had to export it, mostly to the United States.  As I’ve said many times, that’s like exporting snow to Canada in January.  We export to Quebec too, but they are in the same vote.  However, they are much better placed for grain exports that Ontario.  Salt water wafts up toward Quebec City.  Lots of Quebec corn this past year has ended up in Ireland.

At one time Quebec got their corn from Ontario.  I remember very clearly my college roommate back in the early 1980s talking about the cash basis bids in Quebec for his corn.  It was at the time about one third of the price of corn.  Needless to say over time, corn hybrids improved and Quebec built their own corn economy with a huge internal dairy and hog market.  Last year Quebec produced about 3.4 million metric tonnes of corn and consumed about 2.5-3 million metric tonnes.  Like Ontario, they export corn, making Eastern Ontario corn prices some of the cheapest corn prices in the North America.  The only place cheaper is in the Western Corn Belt.

Quebec’s advantage over Ontario is the proximity to the St. Lawrence River for exporting.  These export facilities are at Quebec City, Montreal, Sorel and Three Rivers.  Moving grain by ship is always so much cheaper than by truck or rail.  Whether its non-gmo soybeans or corn, Quebec has the export facilities to ship grains out the St. Lawrence River.

Needless to say, Quebec agriculture is a lot about dairy, hogs, corn, wheat and soybeans but it is so much else.  There is something in the collective soul of a Quebec farmer that can’t be measured.  Quebec farmers don’t necessarily look to Canada as their country.  Being a Quebec farmer is something you feel, with the national capital in Quebec City.  Parti Quebecois founder and former Premier Rene Levesque once said, “if we want our own country, we must have are own food supply.”  That’s the reason that Quebec farm country is so dynamic against the rest of Canada.  They’ve always had a plan and that is to support made in Quebec agriculture.

Of course the elephant in the room whenever an English Canadian shows up in Quebec is politics.  In Quebec, there always resides a large minority of the population who want to make Quebec a country.  Separation politics over the last 50 years have divided families in Quebec as well as dividing Canadians.  It almost happened in 1995 when Quebecers came within 40,000 votes of breaking up Canada.

French Canadian separatists as well as the TROC (The Rest of Canada) exhaled.  However, former Prime Minster Jean Chretien and his young Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Stephane Dion put forward the Clarity Act, which sets out the conditions for Quebec separation.  With Premier Pauline Marois currently in an election campaign battle she is expected to win, the separation question is back in the national consciousness.  We move on.

It’s my experience though that Quebecois loathe their politicians a lot like the rest of us do.  Next week will be about Quebec agriculture, Quebec grains and trying to put risk management on Quebec radar.  I’ll be among friends, good friends and despite our differences, we will be farmers.  That bond transcends almost everything.