Original Published 12:49 Mar 24, 2022

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative

Farmers in the B.C. Peace are still recovering from cool, wet weather over the last two years, and the rising cost of fuel taxes and fertilizer won’t make sowing any easier this season.

Malcolm Odermatt, a Baldonnel farmer and president of the BC Grain Producers, says fuel is the main fight, with farmers squeezed by the carbon tax on diesel as well as standard taxes applied to all fuel, regardless of whether it’s used for farm equipment.

“We don’t have alternatives right now. It doesn’t matter how much money you want to spend on combines, swathers, a sprayer, the only engine option is a big internal combustion diesel engine,” said Odermatt. “I’d be excited for the day when we can burn hydrogen instead of diesel on this farm, but right now that’s our only energy source, and it’s being taxed.”

Odermatt says grain farmers need be treated with distinction as they need heavy equipment to move their grain and it all burns fuel — a method which they have no choice in.

“It’s frustrating, because we’re not like the farms down south where they rely on foreign workers to get the crop off, we can harvest a tremendous amount of grain,” said Odermatt. “But we can’t do it without large industrial equipment, it all runs on diesel.”

Speculation also continues to circulate over a potential shortage of fertilizer. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a brief CP rail strike have been cited as two possible factors, Odermatt says prices were already high last fall.

“We still don’t really know whether there’s going to be a massive fertilizer shortage, we’ve seen the price go up, and a lot of people are saying it’s purely because of the crisis in Ukraine, but it’s not really the truth,” he said. “The prices were high last fall, when typically they’re quite low.”

“If you look back in history, every time we see high grain prices, we see high fertilizer prices, they kind of go hand in hand,” he said.

Odermatt says Peace Region farmers are still recovering from two summers of crops being left on the field due to excess moisture and cold weather.

“Right now we’re all doing not too bad. We did have one of our worst growing seasons in about 70 years, it was an absolute write-off,” he said. “But the real test will be when we start moving equipment around and start putting seed in the ground, fertilizer in the ground, and then protecting that crop.”

Dan Rose, electoral director for the Peace River Regional District, expressed his concerns over fuel and fertilizer costs at a March 17 committee meeting, and says he expects to double or triple his own input costs at his cattle ranch in Groundbirch.

“I’m really getting tired of these so-called experts telling everybody that all we have to do is raise the price of our product. The commodity market doesn’t work like that, we don’t have control over that,” said Rose.

“Most commodity prices, and because we are a net exporter, we have no leverage. So we’re price takers, not price setters – lumber, oil and gas, cattle. The only ones that aren’t subject to that are poultry and our supply managed commodities.”

Rose wants to see some kind of relief initiative by the province to offset the fuel prices taken on by farmers.

Karen Goodings, another PRRD director for the Cecil Lake area, agreed that the region has always suffered from an inability to set commodity prices. She suggested requesting an audience with Lana Popham, B.C.’s current minister of agriculture, to discuss the issue.

“I have to agree that we are price takers, not price makers, and this has always been an issue for us. I guess the problem that I see as well, is when the commodity goes up, it’s not the producer that gets the benefit,” she said. “So it’s the guy who’s selling it, it’s the middle-man, it’s the stores, or whatever. It’s not the farmer.”

This item reprinted with permission from Alaska Highway News, Fort St. John, British Columbia