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Column: Are we there yet? Thriving against the odds

Saskatchewan farmers are racing against time to plant crops amidst unpredictable weather and mounting pressure. Opinion piece on how the farming legacy continues to shape lives and the innovative steps being taken to secure our agricultural future.
Seeding is nearing completion in Saskatchewan.

As of last Thursday, Saskatchewan farmers have put 56 per cent of the 2024 crop in the ground, according to the provincial government's crop report, almost doubling the results in a week. The southeast was at 61 per cent seeding completion, which is still behind the average results, but not by much.

My family, farming west of Estevan, was getting pretty close to finishing the seeding season as of the end of last week. (Most of the neighbours were already done, and those of you who farm, or have family members involved in the industry, know that once a neighbour is done, the pressure instantly triples).

I had it easy this year, missing all of my rock-rolling (a bit different from rock 'n' rolling, though I still find ways to enjoy it) duties so far, thanks to my brother-in-law, who was there when I had to work or help with other things around the farm. He absolutely rock 'n' rolled and got the job done, despite all the challenges this year.

While getting close to being done seeding feels good, it's just the beginning of the short, intense and ridiculously stressful farming season in Saskatchewan.

Since the first days of this province (as a province) and even before it was officially formed, farming has been the lifeline of Saskatchewan. From the early homesteaders who braved harsh conditions to cultivate the land, to today's farmers using cutting-edge technology, agriculture remains crucial to our province.

Saskatchewan's farming legacy dates to the late 1800s when settlers arrived under the Dominion Lands Act, gradually transforming the Prairies into productive farmland. They set the foundation for what would eventually become Canada's breadbasket and one of the bigger contributors to global food security.

Agriculture is not just an economic driver, it's a way of life and a lifestyle. Over a third of Saskatchewan's population lives in rural areas, and a lot of them live on family farms passed down through generations. Farms are more than businesses, they are heritage, identity and community. They represent the persistence and strength of the people.

Pressure is something I believe farmers experience more than anyone else in any other industry.

While it feels good to get close to being done seeding, every drop of rain that comes before you are done makes you stress. A lack of rain, once the seed is in the ground, is another source of pain farmers here have no control over. Any weather event in the summer might be fun or scary for everyone, but for the farmers, hail and storms are another severe headache. A lack of heat, excess heat, lack of moisture, excess moisture, strong winds, early fall, insects, weeds, animals. Anything and everything may get in the way of a farmer getting the job done.

And it would be one thing if it was just a farmer's wellbeing at stake. After all, all entrepreneurs face risk. But in the case of farmers, a lot of whom are not businesspeople, their job goes far beyond personal well-being. A bad harvest or two in a region or other issues affecting the industry, and the most vulnerable areas will feel it the worst.

But there are other challenges. Market fluctuations, trade uncertainties and rising input costs for fuel, seed and equipment strain farmers' budgets, adding tension.

As a result, the mental health of farmers is an often-overlooked aspect of the agricultural sector. The constant stress of ensuring a successful harvest, coupled with financial pressures and isolation, can lead to significant mental health issues.

Yet, amidst these challenges, Saskatchewan farmers continue to innovate and adapt. Advances in agricultural technology, such as precision farming and drought-resistant crops, offer new ways to mitigate some of the risks. The push towards sustainable practices also promises a more resilient future for our agriculture.

I'm an absolute layman in farming, I guess I'm a farmer-in-law. But when I learn more about southeast innovators like Wyatt Thompson and Logan Stewart looking into the potential for portable irrigation systems here, when I hear talks about opportunities for a systematic change that would help farmers make the process more controlled, I can't resist getting overexcited. Again, those of you who've felt the pressure at least once, know there is nothing similar to it.

Hopefully one day, farming will be somewhat of a more secure business, like retail. But as we move forward, it is crucial to recognize and support our farming community. Farming in Saskatchewan is a testament to human endurance and ingenuity. It is a vocation that sustains not just our economy, but our very way of life.