By David Goodwillie, Information Officer, Communications Branch
A phone rings on a sunny morning in the call centre of the Moose Jaw Agriculture Knowledge Centre (AKC). It’s Crop Report day and another crop reporter is calling in from anywhere across the province. A resource agent picks up the receiver and chats with the reporter about the day while entering the weekly survey data into the Crop Report database. In the background is the murmur of other conversations and the buzzing of the fax machine as it adds another survey report to the small stack in the hopper. A moment later, a computer dings to announce the arrival of a reporter’s email.
From seeding to harvest, the AKC is bustling with activity every Tuesday and Wednesday as resource agents field calls, emails and faxes from the 211 crop reporters scattered across Saskatchewan. As the calls peter out, the team turns to manually entering reports. Shannon Friesen, the Crop Extension Specialist, is busy at her computer entering information and analysing the accumulating statistics.
Shortly before Wednesday noon, having coaxed the system to produce the reports, she sits down to write the first draft of Crop Report.
Meanwhile in Regina, the Ministry’s Geomatics Services is quickly producing the maps that make Crop Report such a valuable resource. Temperature data are collected from Saskatchewan Environment, Environment Canada and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. GIS software extracts data directly from the Crop Report database to produce the rainfall and soil moisture maps. Only the most reliable crop reporters—those with a 90-per-cent reporting rate or better—have their data included, and an algorithm fills in the gaps.
The maps and data are assembled into the Crop Report by the members of Communications Branch. A news release is approved, and work starts on the new web pages for saskatchewan.ca/agriculture.
Thursday morning, as the final touches are put on the webpages, Shannon Friesen assembles her notes for the media calls that start almost immediately after Crop Report is released at 10 o’clock. She fields around 10 media calls every Thursday, although the number will vary considerably depending on the time of year or the weather that week.
When the last media interview is over in the late afternoon, she takes a deep breath and starts preparing for next week. The crop reporting cycle runs from spring to fall, usually 25 to 30 weeks in total, but the team is not idle over the winter. Those months are spent planning for the next season, preparing the reporting material and enlisting new volunteer crop reporters.
Crop Report keeps the general public up to date on the achievements and challenges of farming, but it is also a valuable source of information for the financial and commodity markets which use the weekly reports to help set commodity prices. Users range from the Chicago Commodity Exchange to individual traders. The Crop Report receives around 80,000 web page visits per year—more than 15 per cent of all views on saskatchewan.ca/agriculture. Visitors come from almost every country in the world, but the majority are from Canada and the United States, while France, China, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany complete the top 10.
Crop Report wouldn’t exist were it not for the volunteer reporters.
“Without these reporters, there is no Crop Report,” states Shannon Friesen, “and Saskatchewan Agriculture is truly lucky to work with such dedicated and hard-working people.”
Delwyn Jansen of Four20 Farm is one of those hard-working volunteers. He began recording the weather for Environment Canada in 1980, and when his rural municipality’s first crop reporter retired in 1982, he took on the job. He is still using the original Environment Canada rain gauge from nearly 40 years ago.
When he began, Crop Report was done through the mail. In mid-March, a large parcel would arrive with question pads, postage-paid envelopes, information sheets and a desk sheet for recording precipitation. Eventually, reporters moved to a telephone-reporting system, and today, they can submit information online.
“Moving to the telephone system made the process somewhat easier as I could phone in on Sunday afternoons as time allowed, and I didn’t have to mail in the questionnaires on Monday,” says Delwyn. “The move to online reporting was also an improvement as you could answer the questionnaire as early as five in the morning or as late as midnight. The questions were the same, whichever system was used.”
Delwyn will receive his 35-year crop reporter certificate at a banquet in the Legislative Building in the spring—and already has the 20-, 25- and 30-year plaques—but he doesn’t do the job for the accolades.
“I am a primary food producer, and weather affects every avenue of agriculture,” he says. The work fits into his daily routine and is not overwhelming. In fact, it is sometimes beneficial, providing him with information he might not have otherwise.
“I found that there would be times when we had frost over night, but the regular thermometer didn’t show frost at bedtime or at rising. By the way, did you know we had frost every month of the year in 2000?”
Being a crop reporter may also be an asset when it comes to settling arguments on Coffee Row.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer crop reporter, contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 or email@example.com.