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RANCH MUSINGS: War’s impact on local food production

David Zirnhelt pens a column each week for the Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

I watch the news every night I can lately, because I know this Ukraine war and its impact on our agriculture may be profound.

The upset to world trade because the egotistical (or worse, pathological) leadership of Mr. Putin as he sends his army into the Ukraine has resulted in profound impacts on our own domestic agriculture and food production.

More stress on our agriculture is unwelcomed but understandable and unavoidable.

Maybe our savings, which have gone up under COVID restrictions, will be offset by the increases in food costs, rather than increased recreational spending like RVs, country cottages, and other consumer items.

My hope is that a renewed consciousness on food quality (good food equals better health) will justify some greater expenses on the basics of good food.

Much has been said about the prices of locally produced food goods, some noting they are higher than buying food commodities (things with a global market) from the large chain grocery suppliers.

Consumers should remember that buying local circulates the dollars in the local economy and makes us all richer and more food secure. The food producers need support so they are there and sustained for when there are global disruptions in the food supply chain.

The global disruptions from a warming climate, drought, storms and relocation of large populations because of water and soil shortages, piles on the stress on the food system.

With input costs to food production soaring, what can farmers do? We can’t single handedly stop the war in the Ukraine (the breadbasket of central and eastern Europe) or immediately find substitutes for phosphates and other fertilizers like nitrogen, much of which comes from petroleum by-products.

To me the solution to rising costs is the reduction of input costs, namely energy, seeds and machinery.

This demands new and different ways of conducting our business. We need to treasure and not waste our input dollars where we can. For example, if we are renovating our fields by farming the land and reseeding, we can do the tried and true methods from the past.

READ MORE: Canadian federal ministers cite need for international war crimes probe of Russia

We can farm (plow, disk, rotovate) in the fall, then feed our livestock on that ground, then disk in the manure, then seed the new crop. This is letting the livestock produce and distribute the nutrients over the soil surface.

We can reduce the run-off of nutrients this way, all while reducing fertilizer costs. We can become more precise on the placement of soil amendments that may be indicated by small investments in soil testing and nutrient analysis of our forage and other crops (vegetables).

As a parting comment on this post-fire, flood, drought, rain storm, COVID, labour shortages, and now war and world of economic repercussion, I say there is much we can do.

We have to examine everything that goes into the farm operations and rethink by asking the question: Is this input necessary and does it contribute to the short, medium and long term sustainability?

I know this year’s farming activities will be driven by any inventory of seed, fertilizers, existing equipment and labour (new farmers) that we have on hand.

I feel challenged but can turn that into positive opportunity.

Finally, I am grateful for where we live. Our challenges pale by comparison to most of the rest of the world. Remind yourself every time you sit down to a meal.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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