Prairie tour points to good crops on horizon but many obstacles could affect outcome

REGINA — Barring any major yield-altering events between now and harvest, western Canadian yields for spring wheat, durum and canola will be lower than last year’s bin busting numbers but better than average.

That was the main conclusion following a prairie-wide crop tour that concluded July 31 in Regina.

The four-day CWB tour of Western Canada’s key grain producing regions estimated average spring wheat yields in Western Canada at 43 bushels per acre, canola at 34 and durum at 48.

“We’re not trying to produce a number that’s the final end-all, be–all of the Canadian crop,” said Bruce Burnett, a CWB crop analyst and tour organizer.

“This is like a snapshot. We’re going around the Prairies. We’re taking a look. We’re taking stock. Two days from now there could be a massive freeze and everything could change just like that. But for here and for now, this is kind of what we’re looking at.”

Unlike last year, spring wheat yields across the Prairies will vary from region to region.

For example, Burnett said the average spring wheat yield could vary by as much as five to seven bu. per acre between the eastern and western Prairies.

That’s a significant difference given that average yields over the past 10 years have shown little variation from east to west.

The 43.1 bu. per acre prairie-wide estimate for spring wheat is down significantly from last year’s 53 bu. average but better than the 2008-12 five-year average of 41.1 bu. and well up from the 2008-12 average of 36.3 bu.

Yield potential in this year’s durum crop is better than normal.

Tour leaders pegged Western Canada’s overall durum yields at 48.1 bu. per acre, down only marginally from last year’s record 48.4 bu. and well up from the 2008-12 average of 36.3 bu.

“The durum crop looks very good this year,” Burnett said.

“I did have some initial concerns after the heavy rains that we received in the durum areas, about the root structures and their ability to extract the maximum amount of moisture … but that doesn’t appear to be a problem.”

A more immediate concern among prairie durum growers is the weather between now and harvest.

Durum crops in many areas were just finishing flowering last week, meaning they will be much later to mature than normal.

Durum crops in some areas could use more rain to properly fill out, but the threat of early frost is a lingering concern in all areas.

“Crop development is significantly delayed so we do need to see warmer temperatures,” Burnett said.

“I think that’s something that we’ll have to keep a very close eye on.”

Regardless what crop they are growing, farmers across the West will be hoping for a long frost-free period this fall — until mid-September or later — to ensure that yields and crop quality are optimized.

Western Canadian canola yields were especially difficult to estimate, given that many crops are still in flower. The estimate of 34.3 bu. per acre is similar to the 2008-12 average of 33.14 bu. CWB’s yield estimates come as world markets are digesting news of record or near-record global grain supplies.

Daniel Basse, a market analyst and president of Chicago-based Ag-Resource Company, said worldwide plantings of corn, soybeans and wheat hit a record 1.28 billion acres this year.

“This is going to be the fourth year in a row where farmers have expanded their total seeded acreage (of those crops),” he said.

U.S. markets are also anticipating big production at home.

American weather forecasts in late July were projecting widespread rain over much of the U.S. Midwest in early August.

That has analysts pointing to potentially record-breaking corn and soybean yields south of the border.

U.S. corn prices, already down 40 percent in the past year, will likely sink lower if the rain materializes.

Meanwhile, Russian wheat production, estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 53 million tonnes, could come in closer to 60 million tonnes.

Basse said the size of the Russian wheat crop is rising almost daily and could exceed USDA estimates by seven million tonnes.

European growers are also sitting on a huge crop, although recent rain there could hurt crop quality.

Barring a huge hiccup, global supplies of corn, wheat and soybeans — the world’s three largest crops — could reach a record 460 million tonnes in 2014-15.

“This has been one of those growing seasons around the world in which we haven’t had any major problems outside of too much rain,” Basse said. “So when we talk about world markets, this year, we have a very, very good crop in the making, record large by our tallies.”

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