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Canada urges farmers to grow more grain as global food crisis deepens

The Canadian government is urging farmers to increase production of wheat, barley and other grains this year in response to global food insecurity problems caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But farmers now in the midst of planning or planting their crops are warning that weather conditions, the high price of fertilizers, seed availability and labour shortages are all playing havoc with everyone’s best intentions.

Keith Currie, a senior executive with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the prevailing mood among Canadian farmers is “hope and worry.”

Farmers are “eternal optimists,” he said. “We’re going to try and increase supply because we know that part of our job is not only growing food for Canadians, but it’s to feed the world.”

Yet Currie, who farms corn, soybeans and wheat near Collingwood, Ont., says the higher costs of the “inputs” that farmers use “are going to have a huge impact on our bottom line.”

Ukraine and Russia export a quarter of the world’s wheat. Russia is also one of the world’s largest producers of nitrogen fertilizer. However, three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the conflict has restricted Ukrainian food production and exports, and led the West to impose crippling sanctions on Russian exports, particularly oil and gas.

It’s led to higher energy prices on world markets and higher prices for commodities like wheat and barley.

In one respect, it makes it more attractive for Canadian farmers to ramp up wheat production in particular. But the higher costs for fertilizer, seeds, and diesel fuel mean farmers are having to make complex calculations.

“It’s never been more expensive to put a crop in the ground,” said Scott Ross, acting executive director with the Canadian Agriculture Federation.

Currie said cereals and corn “typically need a lot of nitrogen”; however, Russian fertilizer shipments entering Canada are subject to a 35 per cent tariff.

“Our nitrogen prices were hovering around $1,000 per tonne. So now all of a sudden, there’s $350 per tonne put on the nitrogen, so it’s an incredible increase in price. All of a sudden, you know, individual farmers are saying, ‘OK, do I switch crops? Or do I cut back?’”

Other crops such as canola are also rising in price and may be more profitable.

Canadian weather is already playing a big role in all decisions.

Ontario has had a drier than normal spring. Farmers in Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta are coping with ongoing poor soil conditions after last year’s drought, the worst in 70 years. “It’s so dry, they’re afraid to plant because it won’t sprout anyways,” said Currie. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, soggy wet weather has delayed planting.

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