Quebec Agriculture As Dynamic As Ever

IMG_1304    Last week I found myself on the road again, this time to the province of Québec.  I had been invited to speak on the grain markets near Ste. Hyacinthe just east of Montréal.  Québec is a wonderful place and the farm country near St. Hyacinthe is strikingly beautiful.  If it wasn’t for the dairy barns and of course the French language signs everywhere, it was so much like deep southwestern Ontario.  The farms are beautiful the crops were fabulous.

I count it a privilege to say it was my third time speaking in Québec over my career.  With simultaneous translation even English-speaking farmers from Southwestern Ontario can sometimes make sense in French.  I took part in the rural day of the Tournee Grandes Cultures du Quebec, where Quebec farmers came together to learn more about agriculture and hear from organizer and founder Jean Phillippe Boucher on the results of the Quebec crop tour.

In Québec this year Statistics Canada is expecting harvested acreage of corn to be 897,000 and the harvested acreage for soybeans to be 775,900.  Both of these numbers are less than the previous year.  Québec has such a dynamic livestock industry that they consume much of what they produce but they’re also able to export because of their proximity to saltwater.  I know that Ontario non-GMO soybeans are often in competition with their Quebec counterparts partly because the Québec soybeans are so much closer to markets on the saltwater.

In my presentation I talked about many of those factors that affect Québec grain pricing.  I also talked about the 2.035 million acres of corn and 2.92 million acres of soybeans produced in Ontario and how those acres compete by being imported into Québec at certain times of the year.  There is always a certain structure to any grain market in any particular area including places like the United States and Western Canada.  Is important to know how grain historically moves in and out of any particular area as this affects basis pricing.  Québec is no different.   To some extent in Quebec there are issues of price discovery and price transparency.  That gets more real especially as you head east into Québec toward the New Brunswick border.

When I talk about price discovery and price transparency I’m talking about what the price of corn is in Québec.  You could substitute wheat or soybeans into the same sentence.  In Ontario prices are collected and published by Farm Market News, which is sponsored by the Grain Farmers of Ontario.  This is published every day that the markets are open so in Ontario I believe we have complete price transparency.  That means that farmers can be almost sure that the price, which is published is very likely to be the price, which is paid to producers.  In Québec, from what I understand that is not the case and with the myriad of different end-users within the province sometimes that price discovery isn’t what it should be.  Sure, you can back that up to the price at Sorel on the St. Lawrence River, but it is still hard to do.  How you fix Quebeckers should probably answer that problem.  Who am I to criticize one aspect of their agricultural economy, when in fact it’s one of the most dynamic and Canada?

For instance, I was asked what I thought about the price of farmland near St. Hyacinthe Québec area.  I was told that land there was trading for $20,000 an acre.  I answered the question by saying it will likely be sustained as long as supply management in the dairy economy is sustained.  Of course the obvious fact was if the TTP came to fruition and some dairy protection dealt away that would obviously change that land price equation.  However, $20,000 an acre is a measurement for how healthy the agricultural economy is in Québec.  When you combine that with the historic cultural identity of Quebec farmers and the French language, it makes for a very cohesive and strong agricultural sector.

Of course one interesting aspect of Canadian agriculture as a whole is that because of the language barrier between Québec and the rest of Canada we don’t know each other very well.  In fact, because I do not speak French I was not able to speak to everyone with ease.  Needless to say, I tried hard and others tried hard and I think at the end of the day it worked.  I love trying to communicate with my Québec farmer colleagues who do not speak English. Canada was born in French and I am extremely proud of this as a Canadian.  I have had a unique opportunity to peek into Québec agriculture on several different occasions and I certainly hope I get to do it again someday.