Less than three months ago, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture was heralding a record-setting year for Saskatchewan farmers.
Producers harvested 38.4 million tonnes of crops last year. It was 40 per cent higher than 2012 figure and 48 per cent above the 10-year average. In fact, it exceeded the 36.6 million that was forecasted in the Saskatchewan 2020 Growth Plan.
In a way, it was a triumph for Saskatchewan agriculture – a reflection of the work ethic and commitment of Saskatchewan's farmers, coupled with nearly ideal weather conditions.
But there was a nagging, recurring question that the government hoopla tried to bury: how will these crops get to market?
The question isn't just lingering, anymore. It's become a serious issue. And until there's an answer, farmers will pay a hefty price, as they can't ship their bountiful harvest, and the drop is slowly diminishing in quality as it continues to sit in bins.
There isn't a simple solution, a cure-all or a quick fix. It doesn't just rest with CP Rail and CN Rail, although the rail companies should accept some of the blame, and CN Rail's conductors and yard workers deserved to be resoundingly criticized and scorned for their threats to strike earlier this winter, thus turning farmers into pawns in their negotiations.
(If there was ever a time to enact back-to-work legislation for a non-essential service, that was it).
Could it be that Saskatchewan, and Canada, just weren't ready to handle a crop as large as the one seen in 2013?
Not only was Saskatchewan's 2013 crop 48 per cent above the 10-year average, but it was about eight million tonnes larger than the one from 2009 – the largest crop seen from 2007 to 2012.
Provincial and federal opposition parties will talk about how the government should be doing more, but the same situation would be occurring if those opposition parties were in power.
Farmers can hold all the public meetings that they can want, and they can meet with politicians as much as they want, but it's not going to resolve this problem. It'll give them the much-needed opportunity to vent and share their frustrations, but it won't yield new ideas, or accelerate the end of this bottleneck.
So they'll suffer consequences. They won't receive the revenues that they deserve, or that they thought they would receive. Not only do they suffer an economic toll, but there will be a trickle-down effect on the economies of the western Canadian provinces.
Hopefully, this won't discourage them from planting similar crop volumes this year. It would be a shame if they decided not to show the same ambition that allowed them to have such a large harvest in 2013.
Farmers are among the most hard-working, diligent and ethical people out there. They deserve better than uncertainty. And they deserve the prosperity that a record-setting crop should yield.