Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chris Judd

How was 2023?

Why look back? It’s what’s ahead that we have to deal with. Sometimes, we should take a look back to see what decisions we made were good for our future, and the decisions that we maybe made a little too hastily and if we had a chance to re-do that decision with a little more thought, our reaction would have been quite different.
When I was younger, like most younger people, some of us never took that extra five minutes to double think before making an expensive decision that would affect our lives for a long time into the future. The last few years have been very tough to negotiate, with all the restrictions and life changes suddenly compelling us to make some very quick decisions.
About 20 years ago, one fall day, my life very suddenly changed when I had a stroke in my doctor’s office. Thanks to a very observant neighbour, she noticed a very quick change in my posture, and a giant thanks to a doctor who recognized my problem and got me to emerge only a mile away, and thanks to a quickly organized consultation between several excellent and concerned doctors, I am here today.
While lying in hospital for most of a month, I had lots of time to think about what was really important, and the many things that we think important, but really can be looked after by other people more qualified than I. Your health, your family, and how you have encouraged your family and co-workers to become educated to make decisions and do your jobs better than you could suddenly become the most important things in your life. When I asked my doctor “what causes stroke?” his reply was “not eating right, you’re ancestors, and stress”. When I realized that we should not stress over what we cannot control, that eliminated most of my stress.
So, what about life on the farms during the last few years? Farmers have become very accepting of weather changes that we have no control over. Pandemic lock-downs quickly changed eating habits and food packaging along with where and how consumers were forced to eat. Eating much less away from home and dining out much less resulted in much less food waste of uneaten food that used to be purchased in restaurants.
Luckily farmers threw out very little milk, or other food products. Farmers noticed a very fast decline in demand for some foods and that decrease in demand slowly returned to normal. Farmers, on the whole, are much greater users of fuel, labour, and borrowed money than our consumers are. Although our farmers are even more efficient year after year, fuel cost, the cost of borrowing, and increases in labour affect basic food costs even before it is transported and processed and retailed to our consumers.
Although we have witnessed floods, droughts and other disruptions in food production such as wars, 2023 has been a very good year for crop production in Pontiac County. Pasture, hay, grains and corn crops have been much above normal. Although the cost of production formulae has triggered an increase in milk price on the farm, dairy farmers have withheld any increase until spring. Maybe some farm repairs or purchases will have to be delayed a year, but farmers are consumers too, and we are now going through tough times. Many of us can remember when interest rates increased to 20 per cent. Some young progressive farmers had borrowed more than their production could pay the interest on. Some older well-off farmers said, “they never should have borrowed that much” but many of those older established farmers had planned to retire soon and live off the high interest on their investments. Some of those over-extended young farmers had to sell off some of their assets in a depressed market, or even quit.
Our housing market investments were great with high inflation and low interest rates. It will take a sharp pencil and lower interest rates to get over this one. The price of food made from grains will take a year or more to come down. Crops are planted in the spring with expensive fuel and fertilizer made from fuel and transported by trucks that burn fuel. Those crops are harvested in the fall with combines and trucks that still burn that expensive fuel. The grains are processed next season and trucked again. Cattle, hogs and fowl eat that expensive grain to produce milk, eggs and meat which go to market months or even years later. Then labour costs may have increased and will profits decrease? Fuel prices are controlled by countries in the Middle East. None of us like to pay taxes, but should we address climate change (yes, it’s real) or just cruise along and not worry about our grandchildren? Within 20 years, most of our best farmland in Pontiac County along the Ottawa River will be desert if our planet keeps warming at the present rate. Yes, the hardship may last a few years longer, but I’d like my grandchildren to have a productive, safe planet to live on.
If you have any solutions, I’m sure that our politicians would appreciate all logical suggestions.

Chris Judd is a farmer in
Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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