Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm
Between The Rows

Trudeau triggers an election, prosperity in a pandemic, harvest estimates retreat

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In this episode, Glacier FarmMedia Ottawa correspondent D.C. Fraser gives us the inside track on the federal election from an agriculture perspective; Farmtario reporter Diana Martin shares a direct-to-consumer farm marketing success story that arose out of the pandemic; and Bruce Burnett of MarketsFarm tells us exactly what all those downward revisions of crop production estimates mean. Hosted by Gord Gilmour.

View the transcript of this episode below:

Gord Gilmour: [00:00:07] Hello and welcome to another edition of Between the Rows, the podcast of Glacier Farm Media. I’m your host this week, Manitoba Co-operator, Editor Gord Gilmour. It’s election season in Canada and the nation is headed to the polls September 20th. We’ll be checking in a bit later with D.C. Fraser, our Ottawa correspondent, about what he’s expecting of the campaign.

D.C. Fraser: [00:00:31] To me, that seems like farmers might be seen as like a super valuable voter bloc for either party

Gord Gilmour: [00:00:36] And MarketFarm’s Bruce Burnett tells us about all the production estimate revisions of recent days and how they’ll be affecting farmers.

Bruce Burnett: [00:00:44] High prices are great, but if you have nothing to sell into them, it’s really not a great situation for you.

Gord Gilmour: [00:00:50] And we’ll also be looking at a direct-to-consumer farm operation in rural Ontario that turned the pandemic into a win. And there’ll be a special interview with FarmLink. But first, some information we’d like you to know. You can now find us on YouTube. Just search “Between the Rows podcast”, I repeat Between the Rows podcast, and you’ll find the latest episodes as well as our evergreen archive. And we’re going to be using our YouTube space to post resources on stories and even pictures and video. We’re also hoping it’s going to be a place where you’ll drop us a line or let us know what you think about BTR or tell us about a story in your community. We should be taking a look at. So, again, head over to YouTube and search forth Between the Rows podcast. And now a word from our sponsor.

FarmLink: [00:01:42] Part of being a farmer is being an accountant and a mechanic and a chemist. You have lots on the go. So FarmLink makes your grain marketing go further. We help you reach your financial goals with calculated sales decisions. No bias, just solutions and results. Plus, with our new app, GrainFox, we bring every opportunity right to your fingertips. Literally start seeing the returns that’ll get your family ahead. You’ve earned it, FarmLink. Your work is worth more. Get started at farmlinksolutions.ca

Gord Gilmour: [00:02:18] And now for Ontario, reporter Diana Martin travels to a farm in Ontario to meet Emma Butler, Emma and her husband, Josh Butler operate J&E Meats. It’s their online direct-to-consumer operation that skyrocketed once the pandemic hit.

Emma Butler: [00:02:40] Oh, yes. So our online store opened in summer of 2020. We just kind of did a soft opening and then the plan was to open softly in 2019, kind of grow as we could grow as we could towards the Christmas time. And then in the new year or so, in 2020, the plan was, oh, then we’ll have a grand opening on Open Farm Day, you know, do the whole thing, invite families out here. And then the pandemic hit and everything kind of came to a screeching halt. And then we also were expecting our third baby as well, too. So it actually kind of all coincided really well for us because we were able to scale our business and not get too far ahead of ourselves and still enjoy our new person in our life and then also scale our business model to something where we can manage it because it was kind of getting away on us. Like we were so busy from the day we open our doors because we did operate prior. We started our business in 2018 just operating from our house. So when we built our store, it gave us a lot more opportunity and demand was definitely there and our community was there for us and it was awesome. But we were growing too fast beyond what I could handle is a bit of a one man show in terms of store and online and, you know, customers and orders and all that kind of stuff. So it actually worked out just the way that it was supposed to. Like the pandemic gave us a lot of time to regroup and to kind of share our story the way that we always wanted to without feeling like we were being overwhelmed or overcome.

Emma Butler: [00:04:12] So shocking or not, I’m super stubborn and I did not want to have a website at all that was like not my game plan, not for a year, I wanted to get like a year of full business under my belt, just operate on social media and word of mouth so that we could scale it, because once you kind of have a website, it’s a full-time job that nobody thinks about. And I sort of like as a piece of advice to anybody else running their own business. It’s like when you commit to a website, you’re very committed, you’re constantly updating it. People have access to you all the time, which is really awesome that, you know, you can go to sleep and wake up in the morning and have five orders. Yes, that’s fantastic. But it’s also a lot more work. It’s like one more thing on your plate. It’s one more thing to balance inventory management wise as well, too, because if you’re like me and you have a brick and mortar and you operate digitally as well, too, you know, you kind of have to reserve certain inventory for certain things and allocate it in different directions as you have it, because the customers don’t know. They’re not looking at your freezers or looking at your inventory. So they don’t know, which is awesome. So it wasn’t really like a service that I went with. I just went right in deep, got our own website.

Emma Butler: [00:05:19] Our point-of-sale system is kind of what we went through. So everything’s all linked through our point-of-sale system, which is really awesome for management. Why is inventory management sales, all that kind of stuff? And I think for us, the most beneficial things now that we have it figured out. And one of the most beneficial things that happened during the pandemic was it happened and then all of a sudden every single person on the planet turned to shopping online. So for us, it gave us a channel to be able to still continue to operate, even though our own farm store was closed, we were facing inventory issues, etc. We were able to still gain new customers, still gain new sales. Our customers didn’t mind waiting five weeks for their order like they didn’t care. They didn’t complain. They just were happy to support us and know that they could still be fulfilled. And then also it was another plus because it got me really good operating website and it got me a lot of experience and a very short amount of time doing online inventory management and fulfilling orders and, you know, connecting with our customers and making deliveries because I also deliver myself as well. I don’t use third party delivery companies. It’s all me. So it be really good at all the things that might have taken more time to get better. And so I’m really actually kind of grateful for the experience because now I’m a pro. So when we started the business in 2018, our five -year goal at that time was at some point in the next five years we want to have a little on farm store, you know, raise our family, kind of quietly get our kids a little bigger because we have three kids under the age of three.

Emma Butler: [00:06:52] So we we kind of wanted that to be our three-year or our five-year plan. Start a business in 2018. It was so well received that we kind of just jumped right into it. And we’re like, I guess we’re going to build non-farm in the spring. So we did that and accomplished that and then we open in 2019. Flash forward to the pandemic in 2020 and our surge in business. We closed there briefly for a little bit as kind of everybody did. Nobody really knew what was going on. And like we said, we just had a lot of personal stuff going on as well, too. So it worked best for us and our family. And then flash forward, we opened again in August 2020, and then we’ve just been kind of climbing and surging forward ever since. And now our, you know, our original 10-year goal has now been definitely upped to like 2022. We want to expand our retail space and then be able just to offer more to our community, more to our customers. We’d love to expand more into agri tourism as well, too, and really give something for people to come to to see and to explore and really just show them kind of what living in a rural area in Ontario is like and just how beautiful it really is.

Emma Butler: [00:08:03] Yes, so now, going forward, it’s actually been nice. I know we keep talking about the pandemic, but it’s been nice because it showed us that, like, this is a real thing, like we’re building we’re building something and we’ve built something that is sustainable and that is going to contribute to our firm and that does contribute to our bottom line. And that is going to give a future for myself and my husband and our three children. Like this is very much our succession plan for our firm. It adds an element to our operation that we didn’t have before. And then it’s also kind of given inspiration to some other producers that are not only just in this province, but across Canada to you that have, you know, reached out to us and said, hey, like, what are you doing? It’s a it’s it’s a great idea. How do I do something like that? Because I want my homestead or my farm to be able to have that kind of sustainability and that sustainable element as well, too. So it’s nice because it’s really been encouraging to show us that we’re not we’re not wasting our time and we’re not playing around, like this is our career. You know, farming is our career. So it’s nice that through joining meets in our own firm store, we’ve been able to really solidify that to our community and to ourselves, that this is, this is real. This isn’t just you know, we’re not we’re not operating at a lower level than we are. We’re operating at a higher level than we thought. So, yeah, our future is just to keep going and keep growing and just to be able to expand, to give more to our customers and more to our children and just kind of see where it goes. Like the sky is really the limit with it and the opportunities are there. So really some time like the present. So we we’re going to just kind of go forward with our with our plans and see where things end up. That’s that’s it. We’re taking on the world.

Gord Gilmour: [00:10:00] It’s always nice to hear a good news story. You’re listening to Between the Rows, the podcast of Glacier for Media. I’m your host this week, Manitoba Co-operator Editor Gord Gilmour. A little later in the show, Bruce Burnett of Markets Farm will guide us through all those lowered production estimates and what they mean to you. But first, yet another federal election is upon us, this time after less than two years since the last poll. We’re joined now by our Ottawa correspondent, D.C.  Fraser, who will give us the inside track on this political horse race from a farm perspective. D.C., thanks for joining us today. Yeah, thanks for having me. So as someone who watches the federal political scene closely, do you expect agriculture to have much profile in the campaign?

D.C. Fraser: [00:10:52] You know what? Maybe not directly, but I do think we’ll hear the odd mention of agriculture just given the drought and the ongoing impacts of climate change know leading up to this election. I think we’ve heard from some federal parties about like the key role, they believe agricultural play in pandemic recovery plans. The liberals and conservatives have both dedicated parts of those specific plans to agriculture, for example. But realistically, I think it’s going to be the case with most elections in Canada and agriculture will be overshadowed by other issues a little bit.

Gord Gilmour: [00:11:21] And in terms of the industry, what are some of the key areas agricultural stakeholders are identifying and trying to interject into the campaign?

D.C. Fraser: [00:11:28] Sure. So we’re seeing a lot of those usual topics pop up. Of course, there’s the regular calls for more investment in rural Internet services, for example. And most stakeholder groups seem to have a pretty significant nod to, again, agricultural being an economic engine. And at the heart of that is essentially to ask for more financial support, to invest research and grow businesses. And, you know, considering the incoming government could feature fairly prominently into negotiations for provinces, for the next federal agricultural policy framework, this and all that comes with that, like reforms to business management programs and stuff like that. It will probably get a little bit more attention, at least from stakeholders this time around, I think. And of course, there’s a there’s a heightened focus on climate change and the role of agriculture plays in the fight against it. And we’ve seen that in some of the early literature coming out from from stakeholder groups like the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, for example.

Gord Gilmour: [00:12:22] And now you’ve sort of alluded to this, but I’d like to dive down a little bit further into it. What are the stakes of this election for the agricultural sector?

D.C. Fraser: [00:12:31] I think when you look at the different recovery plans for the Conservatives and the Liberals, they do seem to share a lot of similarities, defending supply management, opening up or improving international trade markets, business management program changes. Broadly, there isn’t a lot of difference between the two parties when you look at those issues. But of course, if you drill down, you can find some specifics. But in terms of what’s at stake, truly, I think for farmers here is, is the role that the climate will play and how that will impact your culture in the future. We have a major international climate conference coming up. It’s the latest iteration of the conference that spawned the Paris agreement a few years ago. There’s another UN-led effort right now specifically focusing on redesigning food systems and how to more work the environment and climate friendly policies to that that’s along the horizon. And how Canada represents itself at those meetings. And what we commit to internationally will have a pretty significant impact on producers in Canada. And so the next government is likely going to be the government that represents Canadian producers at those tables.

Gord Gilmour: [00:13:37] And now, as we’re early on in the campaign right now, just a couple of days into it as we speak, what are you going to be watching as the campaign wears on? Are there sort of key issues that you’re going to be keying in on? Who are the people that you’re going to be following?

D.C. Fraser: [00:13:51] One will be looking to see just how much effort the Liberals put into to court farmers and the farmer votes. They know likely that Prairie Provinces aren’t going to vote for them. Conservatives are telegraphing that they’re going to have an even greater share of the popular vote in Saskatchewan, for example, than they got the last time around. And of course, as we all know, Saskatchewan went entirely blue. To me, that seems like farmers won’t be seen as a super valuable voter bloc for either party, particularly because the election is once again probably going to be decided in Quebec and Ontario by voters there. I think what we’ll be watching is Trudeau and the Liberals called this election with the expectation it would deliver the majority. We know the prime minister has survived a handful of scandals to this point, and recent polling specifically out of central Canada leads me to believe that he’ll get his wish of a four-year mandate. But as we know and as you say, their elections are long. And I think we’re about to find out how good of a campaigner Mr. Erin O’-Toole is for the Conservatives. Thank you for that.

Gord Gilmour: [00:14:48] I appreciate you taking the time and leading us through some of this.

D.C. Fraser: [00:14:51] Happy to be here, as always. Thanks so much.

Gord Gilmour: [00:14:59] That was Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa correspondent D.C.  Fraser with some insight into the federal election. I’m Gord Gilmour. And you’re listening to Between the Rows, the podcast of Glacier FarmMedia. Our next item is a special feature interview from our sponsor, FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:15:20] So today, I’m here with Mark Lepp, CEO of FarmLink, to talk about how farmers can maximize the returns through a customized grain marketing strategy. But first of all, Mark, let’s just get started with a basic question of getting you to define what you mean by grain marketing.

Mark Lepp: [00:15:39] Thanks, Kevin. That’s a great question. You know, grain marketing is an entirely new idea. We recognize that many producers might not be aware of what exactly it is and what the advantages are to developing a customized grain marketing strategy for their farming operation. Really, grain marketing is a series of informed decisions and subsequent actions that turn green into a profit that really considers two things market analysis being one and marketing decisions being the second one. And those two considerations put you in control of your grain. So what do I mean by that? You know, market analysis being the first component. It really focuses on external factors like macro trends and local prices, weather, politics, global trends. As an example, we’re seeing this now with the drought in western Canada. Supplies is tight, demand is high, and therefore we have record prices. So that’s the one part of grain marketing. The second part is marketing decisions. And really, those are owned hundred per cent by  the farm and the operation itself. They’re smart decisions are taking the crop that producers worked so hard to grow and turning it into cash. These decisions focus on internal factors, which are many. But a couple could be things like risk management, cash flow needs, management styles and individual business goals.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:17:06] So, Mark, for a lot of growers, grain marketing means deciding which elevator they want to deliver to our broker, they want to deal with. How is what you’re talking about different?

Mark Lepp: [00:17:18] Well, well, what’s different is, you know, it’s the it’s the combination of those two factors, like the market analysis and the decisions. And really what it’s not is a grain elevator or the execution part of that, although whether it’s a grain buyer like an elevator or a broker, you know, those are key players in the marketing grain marketing journey. But grain elevators and brokers are not part of grain marketing. And the reason for that is there’s you know, it’s a short-term mindset if, you know, the prices are important on the execution side. And it’s really important to understand where the opportunities are and when it’s time to sell. But you’re finding the best place to sell it to. But what’s really important in grain marketing is that you get an unbiased second opinion that those that you’re working with, that’s not a conflict of interest. And by that to that, you know, it’s kind of like the second part of the grain marketing piece, which is the marketing decisions that are one hundred percent about  your farm you need to put together those strategies that are relevant for your operation. And elevators or brokers are a key part of the execution and part of that journey. But they’re not what true grain marketing is.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:18:38] So as an established grain marketing company, what exactly does FarmLink do for producers then?

Mark Lepp: [00:18:46] Well, we exist to help every producer achieve their financial goals through advanced data and customer service. We help producers make the right grain marketing decisions at the right time. You know, we’re doing our job. If producers are earning what they deserve for doing their job, you know, we believe producers work is worth more.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:19:09] So, Mark, we’ve seen crop inputs and farm equipment progressed wildly over the last 20 years, but grain marketing has pretty much stayed the same. How do you see FarmLink changing in the future of grain marketing?

Mark Lepp: [00:19:25] Well, what we’re working on is to really revolutionize grain marketing, and we’re doing that by using advanced and timely technology powered by people. We’ve created a new grain marketing platform called GrainFox. And what it does is it uses farmer’s market analysis. It’s backed by a team of analysts. We have a network of local grain marketing advisors working with our customers and also with 20 years of statistical and historical data behind it to help bring that power of grain talks to our customers.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:19:58] So, Mark, what is GrainFox?

Mark Lepp: [00:20:01] Well, GrainFox gives producers up to the minute, green marketing insights and recommendations, it’ll be Western Canada’s first green marketing platform. And the features that it would have is we’re using machine learning, analysis and recommendations to bring growers predictive sales recommendations, price trends, market forecasters, market forecasts are specific for their operation. It has a comprehensive grain marketing and grain management system, a local price mapper, which allows, as I mentioned before, like those marketing decisions that a hundred percent of the farm. It really brings all of those considerations to the farm and all the external factors into one platform for each producer.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:20:50] Perhaps you could describe or summarize the key features.

Mark Lepp: [00:20:57] GrainFox is a green marketing technology tool, and it gives producers really three main things financial power, automation with the human touch and unbiased advisers support on demand. So the financial power, it allows you to know what you have, what it’s worth, when to sell, and most importantly, why. With automation, with the human touch. What I mean by that is a producer is in control of production. And we’re here to help navigate the decision of when to sell and unbiased advisors support on demand. Producers can get a quick second opinion whenever they need it to sell with that confidence that they need to execute their plan.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:21:42] Some are active producers are looking to learn more about FarmLink and GrainFox, how do they go about doing that?

Mark Lepp: [00:21:49] While they can visit our website? It’s FarmLink Solutions gutsier to learn more about it. And on there, there’s a button to click and they can try GrainFox for free for 90 days.

Kevin Yaworsky: [00:22:01] Excellent, thank you very much, Mark, for coming on between the rows, so that was a clip of FarmLink on today’s edition of Between Rows.

Gord Gilmour: [00:22:15] You’re listening to Between the Rows, the podcast of Glacier Farm Media. I’m your host this week, Gord Gilmour. We’re joined now by Bruce Burnett of Markets firm. He’s going to run us through why the production numbers seem to be falling everywhere this season. Bruce, thanks for being here today.

Good to be here. So it seems to me I’ve seen a whole lot of downward production estimates lately. And to me, it feels like they’re coming up pretty late in the season. You know, I’ve seen things coming out of Europe. I’ve seen things coming out of the U.S. Canada, of course. Is this, in fact, an unusual situation to be in this late in the game?

Bruce Burnett: [00:22:52] Well, I think it just has to deal with our growing season in where we see some production problems more than being atypical. Certainly in Western Canada, we’ve had a drought. The northern plains of the US have had a drought. And so the crop development cycle for those crops, you don’t get to see estimates until, you know, later on July, August that timeframe. In fact, we haven’t seen Statistics Canada estimate yet for our crop, and that won’t occur until the end of the month. So it just happens to be that the spring wheat growing areas in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as in North America, have been undergoing pretty big drought in both areas and that’s been pulling production estimates down in other parts of the globe, though it is significant that late in the season we’re seeing crops drop off as well. So in Russia, not only are the spring wheat crops dropping in terms of their yield potential, but the harvest of the winter wheat crop in Russia is indicating that yields aren’t nearly as good as what people were expecting, let’s say, a couple of months ago. So that, I think, is a little bit exceptional to see a drop off in some of the winter wheat estimates here. Of course, in Europe, we’ve had some weather issues in terms of too much rain in parts of France, Germany, those major producers, which has cut into maybe some of the yield prospects, but more so the quality of the crop this year as well.

Gord Gilmour: [00:24:39] What are some of the key provisions and you’ve been watching and that you will keep watching as that time runs on?

Bruce Burnett: [00:24:46] Well, I think certainly in terms of the North American crop, we have a reasonable handle. As you mentioned, the USDA dropped the Canadian production downward 24-million tonnes for all wheat. Again, I think they’re probably going to have to reduce that number in the coming months here, but we won’t see as large a projection drop.

Again, I would say parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, they will need to move their numbers lower, but it won’t be dramatic. So the numbers I’m going to be more interested in is how the South American crop is progressing. We have a pretty good moisture conditions in Australia right now. And so that would tend us for us to believe that we’re going to have a pretty good crop there. But we are dry in Argentina and again, with some of the downgrades in terms of production. Argentina is going to be one of those key producing areas that could make a difference in this marketing year.

Gord Gilmour: [00:25:51] Now, I’ve already seen some commentators who watch the markets a lot more closely than I do see that they’re in their view, it sets the stage for an explosive market through this winter. Is this a view you share?

Bruce Burnett: [00:26:02] Yeah, we’ve gone from a sort of a narrative of lots of wheat around to a lot tighter wheat supplies this year. And so that is setting us up for an explosive move higher, but only if we see some problems develop with the 2022 winter wheat crop. The 2021 winter wheat crop has been harvested now. So we’re getting going to get into planting season in the, let’s say, US, Europe, Russia in the coming weeks and months. And any problems that we would have developing in those areas, I think certainly could lead us higher in terms of prices. The all-time spring wheat record high was set in the 2007-08 marketing year, and that wasn’t a particularly difficult crop on the spring wheat side. But we certainly saw a lot of demand come in because we were looking at drought conditions in the winter wheat crop. So that was the issue that spurred demand for spring wheat and reduced supplies. So I think there the potential for that to happen this year. But we’ll have to wait and see. In terms of the weather, certainly the prices right now are giving farmers an incentive in winter wheat growing regions to plant as much area as they possibly can.

Gord Gilmour: [00:27:30] And now I guess the cynic in me says, will this be a situation where it could be one of those pirate pictures for farmers in western Canada as they watch prices run higher and really not have much to sell?

Bruce Burnett: [00:27:41] Well, certainly, I think that’s the biggest disappointment this year, is that we are facing the most severe drought conditions that we have since 1988. And yields are going to be low and there will be some farmers to get, let’s say, reasonable yields if you’ve got some timely rains. But for the vast majority of farmers, we’re going to see very, very low levels of production levels that we haven’t seen probably since back in 1988. So or the early 2000s. So again, as you say, high prices are great, but if you have nothing to sell into them, it’s really not a great situation for you. The only positive part from this is that it gives us an opportunity maybe next year if production does recover in the Prairies to capture some of these higher prices, because I think the higher prices may be not where they’re at right now, but again, above average prices are probably going to be here to stay even through the next crop year as well.

Gord Gilmour: [00:28:50] Bruce, as always, thanks for helping us make sense of it. Thank you. That was Bruce Burnett of MarketsFarm, wrapping up another edition of Between the Rows. But before we go, if you’d like to find out more about those market revisions or read about those direct marketers and their successes, head on over to our YouTube channel, where you’ll find links to those stories. Just search Between the Rows podcast. I’m your host this week, Gord Gilmour saying so long and we hope you’ll join us again for our next episode.

FarmLink: [00:29:32] Part of being a farmer is being an accountant and a mechanic and a chemist. You have lots on the go. So FarmLink makes your grain marketing go further. We help you reach your financial goals with calculated sales decisions, no bias, just solutions and results. Plus, with our new app, GrainFox, we bring every opportunity right to your fingertips. Literally start seeing the returns that’ll get your family ahead. You’ve earned it, FarmLink. Your work is worth more. Get started at farmlinksolutions.ca

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