Snow and Adversity

FTLComm - Tisdale - December 18, 2000

In seven days we will celebrate that day of all days of the year, Christmas Day. We will have a good time, eat more than we should and delight in those with whom we spend the day.

Over the last two days we have had some snow and over the past week some low temperatures, alas it is December and that is what we expect. There is nothing we can do about the weather but come to terms with it, prepare for it and take measures to survive when it delivers its annual promise.

I don't want to dampen the Christmas spirit in any way but as I considered the economic condition of this and other agriculturally
dependent communities after
having written the story about
the Wheat Board and the Grain companies Saturday, I can't get the negative blemish out of my mind.

My wife visited on the phone with a friend who told of the depression and burden that is part of their lives and has been part of their lives since rail line abandonment and elevator closures have moved the line of profitability from the black to the red. She, as a grandmother, is affected by how her sons and their wives feel the dissolving future descending upon their once prosperous and extensive farm empire.

Unlike the wind, and the waves of snow that wash over us (more expected today and tomorrow) that are just adversity you have to prepare for and accept. The economy of agricultural Saskatchewan is an imposed adversity, consciously constructed and put in place to expand the profitability of a few stockholders and holders of RSPs in mutual funds. Decisions were made to favour the investors and the consequences seem unending.

We all know that we can make it through the next eight to ten weeks of cold and restricted travel imposed by a passing winter, but it will pass. But when it does, fuel prices will continue to be high, transportation costs will trim away all profits and the

low grain prices will simply make 78% of all farm operations in Saskatchewan losing money ventures. Only those farm operations huddled close to the terminals, or able to produce some crops with low input costs that will turn some revenue, can expect to break even and as they do, the grain companies continue to plot and develop strategies to further gouge and encumber the agricultural community. No wonder the small business people we call "farmers" are depressed emotionally as well as financially.

From the time that my great grandfather and his family rolled their wagons across the prairies of Manitoba and Eastern Saskatchewan we have continued to look to "next year". As a child of six I remember listening to my grouchy uncles complain and rant on a Christmas afternoon about the desperation they were feeling as farmers. The need for a two price system, freight rates, elevating charges, couch grass, tractor parts, low cash flow, piling debts. Fifty years ago, I can hear them and when I asked a question my dad's frown and gesture indicated that I should be seen and not heard. Three of them would go on to build profitable farms that still operate today, two would survive, accepting a little, making do, one would leave farming and another would seek better farming methods only to barely scrape by year after year.

But when I look back on that Christmas day fifty winters ago, with its hundreds of storms and fifty springs and falls, five of those seven farms are still serving their sons only one was a failure and one saw my uncle farm until his daughters all left home and he and my aunt retired and sold their farm. You see from then until now nothing much has changed, the holdings are larger, the debts bigger and the pressure, the prospects remain the same. In fifty some Christmases from now will we still be lamenting the way our country and its investors treat farmers? I don't know, but I do know that the dire concerns of 1950 are the dire concerns of 2000.

I think it will snow this afternoon, despite the sun shining now across the snow banks. Temperatures will pick up a bit this afternoon and if the wind comes around to the South East and the West darkens, its time to write a few notes on Christmas cards or watch Alley McBeal. Six more sleeps until a Merry Christmas.

Timothy W. Shire