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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Same old problems

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We were reminded of that aphorism recently, as we had occasion to leaf through century-old editions of the Brandon Sun.

The papers, which are preserved digitally, contain reminders that Brandon residents have always been dealing with perpetual problems like snow clearing, rutted streets and the balancing act between city services and the tax burden.

We were going through the old issues because last week was the 100th anniversary of a circulation contest organized by the paper that culminated with a bungalow giveaway (we also gave away a car and a few pianos).

But another headline in those long-ago papers also caught our eye.

“Greatest Crop In Country’s History Now Being Moved” was a front-page story on Dec. 20, 1913.

Just like farmers this year, the farmers of precisely 100 years ago were enjoying a bumper — nay, a record — harvest.

And just like this year, the biggest issue turned out to be transporting the grain from groaning elevators to overseas customers.

According to that tale from 100 years ago, railways had been balking at investing in new capacity since at least 1897. But by 1913, despite little new investment, it appeared that everything was running like clockwork.

At its peak, the 1913 harvest moved an average of 1,400 railway cars per day of grain. The total amount hauled to the Great Lakes for shipping was something like 50 per cent greater than the previous record season.

The story gives grain numbers up to and including Saturday, Dec. 13, 1913, and says that the CPR had loaded more than 108.4 million bushels of grain on the Prairies for delivery to Fort William, Ont.

It’s hard to make a direct comparison to this year’s harvest, which has been estimated at up to 70 million tonnes. Depending on the grain, there could be anywhere from 36 to 73 bushels in a tonne.

Wheat is one of the heavier grains, at 36.744 bushels to the tonne. If the 1913 harvest were exclusively wheat, it would mean that 100 years ago, Prairie farmers produced only about three million tonnes of grain.

It is stunning to imagine that this year’s harvest could be evidence of a 23-fold increase in Prairie grain productivity.

Of course, some of that can be attributed to there just being more land tilled on the Prairies than there was 100 years ago. And there have been incredible improvements in the science and technology of farming — everything from more productive grain varieties to automated irrigation to better fertilizers and pesticides.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the biggest challenge with a bumper crop is getting it to market.

Just a few weeks ago, CP Rail said that it was proud of moving more grain in both September and October this year than in any previous September or October on record. They said their grain loadings were 22 per cent higher this year than the average.

They were moving 5,000 rail cars of grain per week, while farmers were asking for at least 6,000.

“We’ve been complaining about rail-car capacity over the last five years,” said Wade Sobkowich, the Western Grain Elevators Association executive director, late last month. “We would like to see rail companies take into account the demand for rail-car capacity.”

We’re sorry to tell you this, but the complaints go back a little further than five years.

Another thing that hasn’t changed? A big grain glut tends to depress prices.

We’ll leave you here with the final sentence from that 100-year-old story, which still applies today:

“The fall grain rush, and the consequent depression in the price … is inevitable.”

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 23, 2013

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Interesting comparisons with 100 years ago.
23 times more production today is likely in the ball park.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We were reminded of that aphorism recently, as we had occasion to leaf through century-old editions of the Brandon Sun.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We were reminded of that aphorism recently, as we had occasion to leaf through century-old editions of the Brandon Sun.

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