Foodgrains reaps rewards

A combine harvests a crop of soft white wheat at the Lone Tree community project, Aug. 30.

Two community growing projects in the Swift Current area had a successful harvest in support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

The Grasslands Growing Project consists of the Lone Tree community project just northeast of Swift Current and the Stewart Valley community project. Andrew Gerbrandt, the project committee coordinator, felt positive about this year’s harvest during the final week of August.

“I think it went very well,” he said. “The yields were pretty good, considering the dry start, and we were able to harvest a good quality.”

A crop of soft white wheat was harvested on about 152 acres at the Lone Tree project with a yield of around 42 bushels per acre. The lentil crop on 130 acres at the Stewart Valley project delivered 20 bushels per acre.

These were positive results, because the crops survived a tough spring and responded well after the rain finally came.

“The dry conditions early on did hurt the crop and it didn't have a great start, but when it started raining, it was able to still grow a good crop,” he said.

Community support has always been an important part of both growing projects, starting with landowners John Wright (Lone Tree) and Bruce Pate (Stewart Valley). Other producers and various agricultural businesses have helped with donation of inputs, equipment and labour over the years.

“It's been very good,” Gerbrandt noted. “People have been very generous over the years and we've been able to raise quite a bit of money to help feed people.”

The greater involvement of Pattison Agriculture at the Lone Tree project was a notable change this year.

“It worked out good,” he said. “Pattison volunteered to farm everything from start to finish. So they seeded it and sprayed it and combined it.”

A grain bag was used to store the crop and Curtis Dunnington, an area farmer, helped out by making a tractor and grain bagger available to the project.

Gerbrandt mentioned that the logistics of this year’s harvest at the Lone Tree project site was more straightforward as a result of the involvement of Pattison Agriculture.

“It’s been a lot easier, because we don't have to try to get everybody together on one day when everybody is busy with their own crop, and it allows us to plan to get it done in a timely fashion,” he said.

Rick Block, the Saskatchewan regional representative for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, visited the Lone Tree project during harvest.

“One of the important aspects of the continuance and the strong support of people who support the Foodgrains Bank are these community projects that really have a presence year in and year out,” he said. “They’re kind of a long-term feature on the landscape, and in fact there are many churches and many people in the communities that in some ways are always curious at this time of year – what’s the Foodgrains Bank field doing like or what will be the final amount that will go to the Foodgrains Bank.”

In the case of these two Swift Current community growing projects, he was struck by the efforts at succession planning by those who have been involved for many years.

“They begin to take a mentorship role and help to guide younger leaders who are taking over the active leadership of these projects,” he said. “That’s really encouraging to see. I think we don’t sometimes understand how important that type of succession is for a community project. We’re understanding it more from an individual farm perspective, but that kind of leadership succession is really important to help communities continue to thrive.”

There are at least 15 of these community growing projects in Saskatchewan that has been supporting the Foodgrains Bank for 10 years and more, and a few have been carrying on for over 20 years. Each project in the province is a precious gift to the Foodgrains Bank, regardless of its duration or size.

“Sometimes people get caught in thinking ‘Our project is only 88 acres’ or ‘Our project is only 40 acres’ and I try to remind people of the importance of every single acre in this scenario,” he said. “So even individual farmers that might feel they can donate grain at the elevator that maybe represent three or five acres of the land that they farm.”

There are 32 growing projects in Saskatchewan in 2019. There are three new growing projects this year and at least another two is expected to start next year. The total annual donations from this province to the Foodgrains Bank are around $2 million, although it will fluctuate a bit from year to year.

The growing projects in Saskatchewan contribute around $1 million towards that total. The remaining 50 per cent will come from individual farmers who donate grain at terminals and then cash donations from individuals or other fundraising initiatives.

A funding agreement between the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Canadian government means financial contributions used for international food assistance projects are matched at a four-to-one level by the federal government.

The Foodgrains Bank provided just over $40 million of assistance to approximately 837,000 people in 36 countries during the previous fiscal year, of which about 60 per cent was directed towards emergency food assistance.

The areas with larger scale operations to provide emergency food assistance included support for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Syrian refugees in surrounding countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, the victims of conflict in South Sudan, and more recently the Foodgrains Bank responded to the crisis in Venezuela.

Emergency food assistance was also provided in southern Africa after Cyclone Idai as well as to those who were without food after drought in parts of Africa.

The remaining 40 per cent of Foodgrains Bank funding is directed towards conservation agriculture projects that will assist rural communities to improve their long-term food security.

“Many families in these settings will experience hunger on an annual basis, where there is a time of relative plenty and then there is a time of relative scarcity of food,” Block said. “That can fluctuate year to year according to weather. Sometimes weather along with agricultural practices really exacerbate food insecurity, and one of the very significant strategies we have is the work that goes along the conservation agricultural training. …The Foodgrains Bank and its local partners are now reaching over 60,000 small household farms in terms of giving these families the training and ability to grow more and better food.”

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