Great expectations

By Andrew Joseph, Editor

Canadian agriculture has seen its fair share of mainstream news lately.

Whether it’s the possible mismanagement of greenbelt properties by the Ontario government, drought creeping into every province and territory, a shortage of migrant workers, or a continued decline in workable farmland, Canada has seen and felt it.

And then there are the usual concerns—the new normal if you will—regarding climate change and weather events, diseases and pests, and market and supply chain volatility.

We didn’t even mention the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how it has affected global crop yield and fertilizer production—but it’s there.

Canada has even seen an uptick in wildfires as the toxic fumes have carried down into “the Big Smoke,” aka Toronto, and other major cities. And since winds and smoke know no boundary, our American cousins have also felt the need to complain about our wildfire smoke—though they have plenty of their own wildfires to occupy their media if they but look for them.

Regardless, fire is a huge concern for modern Canadian farmers, irrespective of where they farm.

The confluence of wildfires has caused ash to fall upon many Canadian fields, with heavy smoke choking out sunlight and affecting crops.

Some experts are worried that this new normal could cause more destructive climate conditions.

Earlier this year, fire consumed a Nova Scotia blueberry farmer’s harvester, tractors, sprayers, and transport trailer—but fortunately missed Peter Sutherland’s house, with no one hurt at his Clyde River property.

Sutherland saw some 25 percent of his 35 acres damaged and noted that the farm’s honeybees were now missing from their hives, apparently evacuating to avoid the fire. Unfortunately, the missing bees were used by Sutherland for pollination purposes, so the farmer is still determining how his crops will propagate.

Certainly, commercial beehives from a third-party provider could have been used by Sutherland and other farms to pollinate in place of those lost to the initial smoke and fire affecting the field.

It would also be helpful if the insurance companies could provide a quick payout to those affected to help them move forward.

Making an Effort

The Canadian government has also attempted to provide financial input into various aspects of the Canadian agricultural sector.

In Budget 2023, the Government of Canada is investing $333 million over 10 years, beginning in 2023–24, in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to support investments in research, product and market development, and processing capacity for solid, non-fat-based products within the dairy segment.

To provide some interest relief to ag producers because of the heavy increase in farm production costs, the Government of Canada is investing $13 million in the AAFC to increase the interest-free limit for loans under the Advance Payments Program from $250,000 to $350,000 for the 2023 program year.

And then there’s Russia.

Even if we can ignore the human aspect of the country’s invasion of Ukraine some 20 months ago, Canada can’t ignore the fact that North American farmers have utilized Russian fertilizers in the past.

To wean Canadian farmers from that dependency—i.e., to help them diversify their fertilizer requirements—$34.1 million over three years, beginning in 2023–24, is being delivered to AAFC’s already established On-Farm Climate Action Fund to move towards the adoption of nitrogen management practices by Eastern Canadian farmers to help optimize the use of fertilizers.

Per Budget 2023, the federal government is also providing $10 million in 2023–24 to the Local Food Infrastructure Fund (LFIF), which will continue to strengthen our food security for Canada’s northern, rural, and Indigenous communities.

Lest we put our foot in it, the government is creating a new foot and mouth disease vaccine bank, sending $57.5 million over five years and $5.6 million ongoing to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to establish the bank and develop emergency response plans.

The budget is also providing funds as an investment to modernize AAFC research labs to help it develop innovative agri-technologies and solutions that will help meet national GHG emission reduction goals while at the same time allowing the sector to continue its growth.

Budget 2023 also included initiatives to improve supply chains, bolster innovation, and tackle climate change.

Speaking of the climate, how about that drought? Or, if you know any farmers in lower Ontario—holy smokes, how about that great weather helping us have an impressive corn and soybean yield?

In our previous issue, we looked at how the drought is affecting Canada and had a peek at global conditions.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, exclaimed that humans have entered an era of “global boiling.”

That sensational news bite was backed up by several days this past July, when the average global temperature reached all-time highs—or at least an all-time high since humankind officially and exactly began calculating such things. Our exact gauging of global temperatures only goes back to the 1940s, so Earth may have seen higher daily global temperatures.

Between July 3 and 6, 2023, the highest average global temperature record was broken daily, from 16.92°C (62.46°F) to 17.23°C (63.01°F).

While such temperatures might sound positively balmy, they include cold-weather climes like the Arctic and Antarctica.

Global boiling commentary aside, 2023 has been a relatively warm summer with many wildfires.

But how does all of this affect Canada?

Corn and Canola, eh?

In an August 31, 2023, S&P Global online news article, it was noted that “when global wheat supplies started tightening due to the Russia-Ukraine war and El Niño drying out [the] Australian crop, Canada was expected to be the bright spot in the market.”

Statistics Canada’s model-based principal field crop estimates for July 2023 were released to the public on August 29. It said that Canadian farmers were projected to produce more corn and soybeans but less wheat, Canola, barley, and oats compared with 2022.

This was based on recent yield model estimates using satellite imagery and agroclimatic data. We certainly saw much lower yields for most crops due to dry conditions in Western Canada—there was that drought we mentioned earlier and the last issue that impacted every province and territory.

Because of the drought—the lower-than-average precipitation and the very high temperatures—much of the Prairies had poor crop conditions, worse than in 2022.

The report indicated that Alberta only had 43.1 percent of its total crop rated in good to excellent condition as of the end of July. The five-year average for Alberta was 60.2 percent.

While Saskatchewan was also a concern owing to the hot and dry weather, Manitoba’s crop conditions were pretty good—and the same can be said for eastern Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, which all have seen higher-than-average rainfall since the beginning of the growing season.

Moe Agostino, the Risk Management Chief Commodity Strategist, stated that “it is the best corn crop ever produced in Ontario.”

And the same is true for the soybean crop. The 2023 Ontario soybean yield estimates are 53.5 bpa (bushels per acre), beating the 2021 record of 53 bpa.

The 2023 Great Ontario Yield Tour team visited farms across Ontario between August 14 and 25, 2023, collecting samples of and examining hundreds of corn and soybean plants.

Agostino, Henry Prinzen, the Maizex Chief Agronomist, and Steve McQueen, Alpine’s Agronomy Manager, examined the Ontario corn and soy from various farms across the province.

On August 31, these Yield Tour experts predicted that the 2023 Ontario corn yield would come in at 203 bpa—a new record high, beating the previous record from 2021 of 200 bpa.

Of course, not all of Ontario will see excellent corn and soybean yields. Some areas will falter, while others will win out, as the Yield Tour team has predicted a corn range of 201.2–205.2 bpa.

Eastern Ontario is predicted to see corn yield ranges of 196 to 206 bpa, while Western Ontario farmers will see a significant uptick at 203 and 224 bpa.

Wheat: A Global Perspective

As for wheat, that’s a different story. Let’s look at the global picture first.

Depending on whom one asks, El Niño is hitting Australia. In the past, El Niño has increased the risk of drought, heatwaves, wildfires (or, as it is called in Australia, bushfires), and coral bleaching (high temperatures heat the water, which in turn kills coral reefs).

However, while the World Meteorological Organization and the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have confirmed that El Niño is now affecting the tropical Pacific, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said it doesn’t yet fit its definition.

For the Bureau to officially declare an El Niño, the temperature of the waters in a central area of the equatorial Pacific (known as Niño 3.4) has to be 0.8°C above average. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said it must only be 0.5°C higher.

But wait a minute—both those temperature increases have been met… So why doesn’t the Australian Bureau declare an El Niño? Let’s say that because El Niño is a coupled phenomenon between the ocean and the atmosphere, the Bureau wants to see some coupling with anecdotal evidence seen through the atmosphere.

Scientists in Oceania point to “climate change”, which means it affects global weather patterns in ways we don’t yet fully realize.


Call it what you want, but the fact remains that Australia is being hit with some pretty good heat. As such, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) calls for Australian wheat exports to decline by 11 million MT to 21.5 million MT for the 2023–24 year. And the USDA is blaming rising temperatures for shrinking yields.

Two big producers of wheat on the worldwide stage were Ukraine and Russia. Although it is expected that Russia will have a big wheat crop, because of trade sanctions against it for invading Ukraine, many countries that would have purchased crops from Russia will be unable to do so.

Russia will find willing trade partners elsewhere, such as India and China, large countries that can always use more food to feed their populace. For them and other countries, any scruples and feelings about Ukraine have to be put aside if they are to prevent food security issues from decimating its population.

As for Ukraine, 2023 has seen the besieged country now mounting counter-offensives against the aggressor nation, and receiving even more violent tit-for-tat attacks in return ad infinitum.

Ukraine had been a prominent exporter of wheat until the February 2022 invasion.

However, signed in July 2022, the Black Sea Grain Deal was brokered by Turkey, the United Nations, Russia, and Ukraine to ease the Russian naval blockade around the waters of Ukraine and allow for a humanitarian corridor to go in and out of Ukraine for agricultural exports.

Because allies of Ukraine have helped it arm itself better against Russia and have now allowed it to fight back with more deadly intent, Russia has, since July 2023, decided not to continue with the Black Sea Grain Deal.

Also, Russian military targets in September seemed to favour destroying Ukraine’s agricultural targets—with no evidence of why, one can only assume it’s a sly way of trying to bankrupt Ukraine while at the same time curtailing their food supply. A hungry populace is a weak and discouraged populace.

Being unable to either harvest or have a way to get their crops out of the country, Ukrainian farmers will be unable to earn money, which will also affect their ability to purchase seeds and plant wheat next season.

Along with the uncertainty it brings to Ukraine’s populace, it creates further global uncertainty as other countries cannot depend on Ukraine’s wheat being available when they need it.

Ukraine has managed to poke the Russian bear with weaponized help from its allies—but did anyone consider the agricultural retaliation?

The USDA detailed in an August 2023 report that Ukraine’s wheat exports will tumble by some 6.3 million MT. In 2022, it managed to export 16.8 million MT of wheat, but with the naval blockades now in effect again, wheat exports could drop to 10.5 million MT.

Can Canadian Wheat Provide?

In a field crop update for August 2023, Statistics Canada said more wheat had been planted in Canada since 1997, coming in this year with 10.7 million hectares.

Spring wheat was the big crop, with 8.3 percent of all wheat on 8.3 million hectares.

But despite the more extensive wheat planting, there are fears that the crop will come in below expectations.

Because of the drought, poor soil moisture levels, and high heat levels, there are concerns about the quality of the wheat grown and whether there will be enough to satisfy our export potential.

As such, AAFC reduced its total wheat output prediction in the August report to 33.2 million MT—two percent lower than in 2022.

The expert opinion reduction is even more concerning when compared to the July report, which predicted a yield of 35.3 MT of wheat.

The AAFC report stated that for 2023–24, the most significant agricultural concern is the expected continuation of drought in Western Canada, especially in the southern part of Alberta and western Saskatchewan. “Significant uncertainty remains at this time regarding estimates of crop yield and production.”

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