Saskatchewan agriculture, livestock sectors having healthy year

by Jim Bray

SASKATOON, Sask.A dry spring doesn’t appear to have messed up this year’s harvest in Saskatchewan, and that has the provincial government predicting that, rather than being a substandard year, 2015 will produce a “very near average crop.”

“It’s an interesting time,” Rick Burton, assistant deputy minister, policy, for Saskatchewan’s Department of Agriculture, told Truck West magazine, estimating that as of mid-October about 85% of the harvest had been completed. “The year started off a little bit challenging in terms of dry weather in parts of the province, but we had some timely rains later on.”

Burton estimated the harvest would be in the neighbourhood of 29 million tonnes, which is slightly above the province’s five-year average, and he noted that cereals make up the lion’s share of province’s inventory, particularly spring wheat and durum, along with canola, peas and lentils.

Saskatchewan’s livestock sector has seen decent incomes over the last few years and Burton thinks such opportunities as provided by the newly-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should help make thing even better.

“Cattle prices have been good,” Burton said. “Our livestock receipts are growing and we have lots of opportunity – not just cattle, but hogs, sheep and bison as well. Most of our agriculture goods are exported, so any trade agreements or enhancements in terms of market access for the province are very important to us.”

Most of the province’s exports currently head south of the 49th parallel, but Burton said the province was looking toward the Far East even before the TPP came along.

“Japan is a big trading partner for us, along with China and Europe,” he said. “The TPP…has 12 countries in it and 800 million consumers. (It represents) over 40% of the global economy and top export destinations for many of our Saskatchewan products both on the grains and the livestock side.”

Burton noted the province doesn’t do any branding initiatives for its products, preferring instead to be part of the larger, regional whole.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Saskatchewan, you’re in Alberta or Manitoba in terms of high-quality cereals and oilseeds and livestock,” he said, “so we don’t brand a specific Saskatchewan product, but we’re certainly active with other provinces and with (the federal government) in ensuring that the good news about Saskatchewan products gets out to the world. We’re investing in those activities as a province, supporting what the federal government and industry is doing in those markets.”

Much of Saskatchewan’s products leaving for export goes out on rail, bulk grains in particular, but Burton said trucking is vital as a go-between, to move the product to the rail sites in the first place.

“There’s a lot of trucking in the province, obviously,” he said, adding that, in terms of livestock, trucks also deliver product to slaughter plants in Alberta and the United States.

And as far as the ag side of the equation is concerned, “we continue to see growth in agriculture products and, so I would assume, that translates into increased trucking of agriculture products.”

Burton was reluctant to blue sky any predictions for next year’s harvest, but he did say, “we have good moisture conditions right now as a result of some late summer and early fall rains and so…there’s no reason to think that we shouldn’t be able to produce a good crop again next year.”

On the livestock side, “we continue to undertake actions to promote the industry and, hopefully, we’ll see some expansion of our livestock sector over time,” Burton said, adding that, when it comes to farm income numbers in recent years, “the farmers have experienced very good levels and we certainly project that both our output and our income will increase over time.”

The message coming out of Saskatchewan’s agriculture sector currently is basically similar to that of other sectors in the province: Saskatchewan is open for business and all systems are go.

“We (have) the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth, which was initiated a few years ago and really sets out some aggressive targets for agriculture in the province,” Burton said. “We expect to see up to 10 million tonnes more crops produced by 2020, (which means) more exports.”

He said the province expects its exports to increase from $10 billion worth of agriculture products a year to $15 billion.

“We have a target for increased livestock sales and value-added processing as well,” he said. “We think there’s tremendous opportunities to increase our value-added sector in the province.”

Accomplishing this, Burton said, can be done through “a combination of investments in research and the adoption of technology by our producers.”

He noted that producers can’t merely grow their products; they have to get them to market as well.

“It’s the transportation system, it’s trade agreements, it’s market access,” he said. “It’s a combination of a lot of activities and of course a competitive business climate.”

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