Ranking crops by profitability yields surprises

There are some surprises in the profitability of this year’s crops. Flax is more profitable than canola, and lentil returns are in the basement along with barley and oats.

Every farm has different numbers: different yields, different costs and often a different selling price. But if you use aggregate numbers, it’s possible to rank crops according to profitability.

The Saskatchewan agriculture ministry publishes a crop planning guide each January. It has well-reasoned costing estimates for a wide variety of cropping choices, from fertilizer to land investment. Costs from the dark brown soil zone were used to perform this profitability comparison.

Statistics Canada recently released new crop production estimates. While yields vary from one province to another, let’s use average Sask­atchewan yields since we’re using Saskatchewan expense numbers.

Crop prices can vary dramatically from one day to the next, but I tried to use reasonable assumptions based on information from buyers and brokers.

According to Statistics Canada, the average yield of canola in Saskatchewan was only 25 bushels per acre this year. Assuming a price of $13.50 per bushel picked up on the farm and subtracting total rotational expenses of $268 an acre, you’re left with a return of roughly $70 an acre.

The average yield of flax in the province is estimated at 21.6 bu. per acre. Assuming a price of $14.25 per bu. and total expenses of $199 an acre, the return is $109 an acre. Although the gross return from flax is lower than canola, expenses are also lower, leading to a larger net return.

Some producers have long claimed that they can make more money with flax than canola. This year, the numbers for Saskatchewan indicate that is indeed the case.

The big equalizer is the disappointing canola yield. Canola profitability would pull ahead of flax if canola yields were three or four bu. better.

While canola is still one of the top crops for profitability, lentils have gone from one of the most profitable to one of the least lucrative.

Statistics Canada pegs average lentil yields at 1,296 pounds per acre. Assuming a price of 20 cents a lb. and subtracting production costs of $230 an acre leaves a return of just $29 an acre. That’s in the same bottom tier as barley and oats.

Barley yielded an average of 49.2 bu. per acre and feed barley picked up on the farm in Saskatchewan is worth about $5.20 per bu. Some areas are higher and some lower, depending on freight costs. Meanwhile, oats averaged 76.2 bu. per acre and the price assumption is $3.25 per bu.

With costs at $231 an acre for barley and $221 an acre for oats, these crops come out with net returns of $25 to $27 an acre.

It’s interesting to note that field peas are more profitable than lentils this year. With an average yield of 28.7 bu. per acre and assuming a price of $8.25, the net return pencils in at $56 an acre.

If you look at spring wheat (35.1 bu. per acre) and durum (33.9 bu. per acre) and assume a price for both of around $8 per bu., the net return for durum is $41 an acre while spring wheat is $55. That’s respectable compared to the other options.

All the crops are money makers, but net returns haven’t turned out the way most expected in the spring.

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