Canola’s bright light dims

What appeared to be a bumper crop of canola heading into harvest has turned into a huge disappointment for some Manitoba growers.

“Yields are much below expectations. I just started harvesting two days ago and our best field did 26 bushels an acre and typically we expect to harvest about 40 bushels per acre,” said Doug Chorney, who farms near East Selkirk, Man.

“The swaths going into the combine are what you’d expect to see for a really high-yielding crop but in the end there’s just nothing coming in the hopper.”

Statistics Canada issued a forecast last week calling for 15.4 million tonnes of canola production. That was about one million tonnes below trade expectations heading into the report.

Chorney, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers, thinks the Statistics Canada estimate is still too high.

The agency is forecasting an average yield of 31.4 bushels per acre in Manitoba.

“That’s never going to happen. It will be 25 if they’re lucky,” he said. “Prepare for higher canola prices, I’d say.”

If Chorney is correct, further losses in Manitoba will shave another 500,000 tonnes off of Statistics Canada’s production estimate, dropping it below 15 million tonnes.

Curtis Rempel, vice-president of crop production with the Canola Council of Canada, also believes Manitoba’s yields have been overstated.

He attributes the poor results to a “brutal” summer heat wave. In other regions of the Prairies, disease was the main yield-robber.

Rempel forecasts a 15.1 million tonne canola crop, which while down from earlier estimates would still get the council to its production goal three years ahead of schedule.

“For me, this is kind of a really good news story,” he said.

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But for many growers the harvest results are a bitter disappointment, especially considering that the smaller-than-expected crop in Manitoba has been accompanied by poor oil content.

“Oil levels are greatly diminished. They’re down to like 39 percent. Normally, we’re in the 42 to 45 percent range,” said Chorney.

“That’s going to be a big issue for the crushers because if there’s less canola and five percent less oil in all the canola they get, that’s going to really affect their productivity.”

The Canadian Grain Commission has analyzed 80 Manitoba canola samples in its Harvest Sample Program. The average oil content of those samples is 40.8 percent, which is below the five-year average of 44.2 percent.

CGC spokesperson Remi Gosselin stressed that those findings are preliminary and should not be considered representative of the 2012 crop.

The data comes from about one-quarter of the samples normally taken in Manitoba. Gosselin pointed out that early samples often have lower oil content than later samples.

Pat Van Osch, vice-president of oilseed processing with Richardson International, said the CGC data jibes with what Richardson has seen at its crush facilities.

He anticipates oil content will improve as harvest moves west and north where the summer weather wasn’t as oppressive.

“Whether we are still below average, time will tell.”

Van Osch also anticipates improved yields.

“There’s a lot of good crops as you move north and west. Just as we’re not real happy with what we’re seeing right now in southern Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan, I think we’ll have pleasant surprises in other regions,” he said.

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Jonathon Driedger, market analyst with FarmLink Marketing Solutions, also emphasized caution when digesting early harvest results.

He said there is no doubt canola fared worse than cereals across the Prairies this year and that the first crops coming off in Manitoba are disappointing.

But he stressed that Manitoba’s crops were the hardest hit and it’s the smallest canola producer of the three prairie provinces.

Saskatchewan Agriculture released its first yield estimates last week with most regions reporting yields of about 30 bushels per acre, which is in line with Statistics Canada’s provincial average forecast of 30.5 bu. per acre and about an average crop for the province.

Gerrid Gust, a grower from Davidson, Sask., and chair of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, thinks the canola crop will be 20 percent below producer expectations.

A Statistics Canada analysis of satellite images of vegetative growth suggests an average Canadian yield of 33.5 bu. per acre, which would result in a 15.8 million tonne crop.

Gust said there is plenty of plant material but diseases like sclerotinia and aster yellows have taken their toll, as has the heat.

“I don’t think there’s as much there as people thought there was,” he said.

Harry Brook, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture, doesn’t know of any canola being harvested in his province, so his yield estimate is only a hunch.

“I’ve got a sneaking suspicion the crops may not be quite as good as they looked,” he said.

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