From Churchill to Matheson and Other Points, Merry Christmas


It is that time of year again, when farmers across the greater North American corn belt pause and reflect on Christmas and the year that was. 2019 will go down as a particularly difficult year for many farmers. It all started with a very drawn out and wet spring in the Eastern corn belt, only to have a very difficult fall as a book end. As I write this, we’ve got the coldest temperatures of the season and harvest in Ontario and Quebec continues.

The last few days in my immediate area have been marked by some of the best soybean harvesting weather since October. While parts of Ontario have had snow squalls, fields are getting dry again, albeit frozen near Dresden. In fact, down the road from me they were harvesting soybeans, in dry frozen conditions mimicking October 1st.

I’m entering my 34th year writing this column and over that time I’ve seen quite a few changes. It’s been a bit hard to keep up with all the changes thru the years, but one thing that has been a constant is the readers of this column. I was contacted by 3 individuals this year who stood out, aside from the many others who have made contact.

I heard from Joe Stover from Churchill Manitoba. Joe is an acquaintance who I met via twitter some time ago, and coming from Churchill, Manitoba made him truly unique. It just so happens that Joe works at the Port of Churchill, Canada’s only Arctic grain loading port on Hudson Bay. The Port has had a colourful history thru the years, but I could always count on Joe to fill me in on the nuances of keeping the rail line open and loading grain on ships destined for Europe via Canada’s Arctic Hudson Strait. For my American readers, get your google machine working. Shipping grain and dodging ice bergs is part of what we do through the Port of Churchill.

I asked Joe various questions. How do you work in such harsh winter conditions? Joe talked about the thermal clothing he would wear head to foot to avoid -40-degree temperatures plus. He told me about the ice build-up on Hudson’s Bay partly due to the Churchill River flowing into the Bay, with that ice build-up a favourite of the Polar Bears. He talked about grain movement out of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the competition with the Ports of Thunder Bay and Vancouver. During the summer, they all hope for the wind to blow in from Hudson Bay, blowing all the bugs inland. In the off time, people play baseball, and do what Canadians do. On meeting Joe in person, it was so special knowing that this guy actually helps load ships through Canada’s only Arctic commercial grain port. There aren’t too many that do that.

Next up is Jason Martin, a farmer from Matheson in Northern Ontario. From my perspective if Joe is way up in the near Arctic, Jason is a southerner. However, he’s in Northern Ontario, a relatively new agricultural area where farmers are clearing land and building an agricultural economy. He called me and we struck up a conversation about his family moving to Matheson from the Listowel area and building a life. He said he had to be fairly innovative, as there were not a lot of agricultural services. So, he started a tire business to get tires fixed. Some of this family started fixing hydraulic hoses, because they needed that done. Simply put, they are farming pioneers carving out farms from northern Ontario forests.

Jason Martin is Mennonite and we chatted about other families who had moved to that area as well as Prince Edward Island Farm Country. He did not have all the new technological things available to him, so getting us together was a bit of a stretch. A chance meeting with a local Dresden man, led him to ask if he knew Phil Shaw, who wrote the Agridome. That local man sat across from me at church. Several months later the phone rang and that’s where that conversation came from.

There are others, you know who you are. I got a knock at the door in September and I was asked if I was Phil Shaw. I said yes and the man introduced himself as Larrie Elliot from Manitoba, a DTN subscriber. He found himself in my area and wanted to find me. So, our evening was full of talking grain farming in Manitoba vs what it was like in Southwestern Ontario. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll get out there in summer. Maybe even take the Via train up to Churchill to see that Arctic grain Port and visit Joe.

So as difficult as 2019 was, through DTN we get to share information, but we also make friends and you never know when they will turn up. It’s a big world out there and we have much to be thankful for. From the flat farm country of Dresden Ontario, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.