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Grain farmers frustrated

IT'S been an emotional roller-coaster ride for many Manitoba grain farmers this winter, as last fall's euphoria over a bumper crop has given way to mounting frustration over plummeting grain prices and ongoing difficulties in getting their grain to market.

"Grain farmers were very buoyant and optimistic last fall after the big yields, and we still had relatively decent (grain) prices," Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney said Wednesday during a break at the group's 30th annual meeting in Winnipeg. "However, we've really seen that optimism wane in the last two months."

Chorney said severe backlogs within Western Canada's railway and grain-handling system, which wasn't equipped to handle such a huge Prairie crop, prevented many Manitoba farmers from getting their crops to market last fall and early winter when prices were still reasonably high. About 20 per cent of them still haven't been able to move any of their grain, he added.

Now, grain prices are so weak, some producers are holding off on selling in hopes of a rebound. Chorney said spring wheat prices are down about 50 per cent from where they were this time last year, while canola and soybean prices are off by 30 to 35 per cent.

He said prices are so low if they don't improve between now and next fall's harvest, farmers will lose money on every crop they plant this year, except spring wheat.

"So grain farmers right now are very concerned about 2014."

One of the meeting's delegates -- Marc Raffard, of Otterburne -- said in an interview he and his family have been able to get around the backlog by selling their grain into the U.S. market and hauling it there in their own trucks rather than trying to ship it by rail.

As well, they started selling back in August, shortly after prices began to drop, in anticipation prices would continue to decline over the winter.

"We decided to position ourselves such that we wouldn't be left with piles of commodities that were diminishing in value," he said.

By Dec. 1, they had sold about 60 per cent of last fall's crop, Raffard said, and since then they've sold most of the rest, all at prices above today's going rate. For example, they were able to get between $10.60 and $11.92 a bushel for their canola, and the going price today is about $8.80.

"We're not preaching to anybody that that's the way to do it," he added, noting one of the reasons it worked for them is their farm is only about 65 kilometres from the U.S. border. The farther from the border, the higher the transportation costs and the smaller the profit margins.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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