On an autumn afternoon in the Canadian prairies, golden wheat chaff blows from a rumbling grain dryer, shimmering in the sun like a snowfall. Clarence Zeleny stands beside the machine, irritation straining his face.
“It’s giving me trouble today,” says the 83-year-old farmer as he studies the snaking tubes and wiring.
Dryers like this, which blast freshly harvested wheat and canola with warm air, are essential for farmers in the region as they attempt to salvage another poor harvest: weeks of rain and snow have left crops too wet to cut or sell otherwise.
“Too many more years like this and farmers here might not survive,” he says.
The patchwork of farms across the vast landscape of Canada’s western prairie provinces has long been the source of much of the world’s supply of canola seed and wheat. But farmers across the region are increasingly feeling pushed to the brink by an unfolding crisis that shows little sign of easing.
This year’s dismal harvest marks the fourth poor season in a row – the worst run of bad luck in memory – and comes against a grim background of plummeting incomes and a trade war with China.