Maynard van der Galien
The one thing that really impressed me when spending a weekend in the Russian city of St. Petersburg a few years ago was that there were almost no cars on the streets on Sunday. The tour bus dropped us off and we walked along St. Isaac’s Square snapping photos of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. We easily walked across the street and even stood on the street taking photos.
The Russian people stay home or walk on Sundays. I had my picture taken in my red jacket standing in the middle of the street opposite the famous cathedral.
It’s the complete opposite in North America. People are driving and driving. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called drivers “a bunch of yahoos” for driving recklessly where trees and hydro lines were down after the wind storm on May 21. He said motorists were just driving around sightseeing and ignoring the dangerous situation as intersection traffic lights were not working.
It always amazes me the traffic on Sundays on Highway 17 going up to and past Pembroke. It’s a steady stream of fast-moving vehicles. Where are they going? Well, obviously north. Are there fewer vehicles now that the price of gasoline is over two bucks a litre? Not at all!
Has the lineup of idling vehicles been smaller at the drive-thru at Tim Hortons locations? No, it may have gotten longer. It’s crazy. People complain about the cost of gas but they’ll drive there for a coffee and a something. And sit there in an idling vehicle. Most times there is only one person in a vehicle. It’s the same scenario at McDonald’s, where I occasionally go for a hamburger but never use the drive-thru.
You would think that with the high price of gas and groceries people would stay at home more. It seems they have to be out and about burning fossil fuel.
What about our farmers? Are they trying to conserve fuel? Are they driving their pickups when traveling a distance for parts or are they taking a smaller vehicle? Are they making as many trips over a field as they used to? You may have heard the joke why farmers are in their big tractors tilling the fields after crops are off. If he isn’t busy his wife will put him to work or make him get an off-farm job.
In the last 10-to-15 years, a lot of no-till has been replaced by light tillage. Farmers find the ground warms up faster and corn stalks are chewed up, making for better planting.
I asked a number of large cash-crop operators if they have changed their way of doing things this spring.
One operator, who has rented land far from his home base, says he is better organized now. When he sends a tractor and seeder out, he makes sure everything is there to do the job and he doesn’t have to drive back to get things.
Another farmer, who crops around 1,100 acres near his home, said he works the early planted fields lightly to warm up the soil but this year he is no-tilling directly into corn stubble in the loamier later-planted fields.
A few dairy farmers said that to save on fertilizer costs they are doing more field work this spring by putting on their liquid manure and working it in. The pit was full so they had to go at it.
A cash-cropper, with no cattle, said he just fills up the tank with diesel. “Can’t do anything about the price,” he said.
Another cash-cropper with 1,200 acres in crops said they are doing fewer passes now and more no-till.
What about driving the pickups? Are they driving the family car or van more to save on gas? Definitely, maybe! One farm wife said they always drove their car or van more than the pickup.
Farmers grudgingly buy expensive fuel they need to run their operation but they’re frustrated at the cost of fertilizer. Anyone who didn’t book fertilizer last fall is paying a lot more money — if he can even get it.
Prices of some fertilizers have increased by 300 percent over the past year.
According to a local salesman I spoke with, urea that wasn’t booked was priced at $1,600 a tonne early this spring and then jumped to $1,800.
The big question now is what will the price be next year?
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agriculture columnist.