Feb 17, 2016

New ideas sprout at Crop Connect conference

Producers from across Manitoba filled the parking lot of Winnipeg’s Victoria Inn and Conference Centre with their sparkling half-tons for a recent farmers’ conference.

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.

The Crop Connect conference took place at the centre on Feb. 10 and 11, where producers heard speakers and checked out the many agricultural companies’ displays at the trade show. With a few good years for grain and oilseed producers, the atmosphere was upbeat.

One of the biggest issues facing Canada’s farmers is planning for their retirement – either selling their farm or passing it on to children or other family members. Jacqueline Gerrard, an agrologist and associate with Backswath Management, spoke about the financial considerations involved in succession planning for farm families.

She said this is often tricky terrain for families as parents have to think about their own future needs, and how to fairly deal with their children, some of whom might not be involved in the family farm any longer.

“What if I make everyone mad and no one comes to visit me in the nursing home?” read one of her slides.

She recommends that older farmers go through their records to see what expenses are now being assigned to the farm, but that they will have to cover if they leave the farming operation.

These could include car payments, gas costs, insurance and others, typically amounting to between $20,000 and $30,000 annually.

“As business owners, we don’t always do our own finances well,” Gerrard said.

While the farm operation might have a strong revenue-to-debt ratio now, factoring in added costs of passing on the farm could throw the operation into the red, she said.

Backswath offers an online calculator designed to show how much income retiring farmers are likely to receive, and whether or not this will be enough over the long-term as inflation must be considered. It is available at http://backswath.cloudaccess.net/78-backswath-management-inc/101-backswath-management-retirement-calculator.html

Gerrard suggests that farm families look at their plans over the next five years and see if they need to increase their production or come up with another revenue source in order to be able to successfully pass on the farm.

“Talk about what you’re trying to accomplish on the farm,” she said. “We need time to figure this out.”

Most of the families that she’s advised end up making a pre-succession plan to allow the time needed to work things out.

While Gerrard dealt with matter close to home, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada remote sensing specialist Leander Campbell shared the view from high above the earth.

A member of AAFC’s Earth Observation Team, Campbell described how satellites circling the earth are providing information useful to farmers, such as weekly soil moisture conditions.

“I can sit in an office in Ottawa, and see what’s going on in Alberta,” he said.

Using microwave technology, the satellites send back data on soil moisture that can also help with flood forecasting as well as providing guidance for farmers on when soil is dry enough for spring seeding.

Campbell said different plants reflect specific wavelengths of light, allowing them to be identified. The AAFC team has collected satellite information, and confirmed it with on-the-ground crop observations and data from provincial crop insurance programs, to track changes in where agricultural crops are being grown and the types of crops planted each year.

He displayed a colourful map showing the individual fields of grains, oilseed, pulse and potato crops grown in the Oakville, Man. area in 2015. Each type of crop was marked with a different colour.

“We can build a mental picture of what crops are growing out there,” he said. Another series of slides showed how a soybean acreage changed in part of Saskatchewan over a three-year period.

He anticipates the launch of more satellites, allowing researchers to have more frequent looks at the earth’s vegetation to identify changes due to climate and annual growing conditions.

The AAFC makes the information gathered through Geospatial Products available to the public at http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/?id=1343066456961