Growers may lean to short season crops

Barley, oats acres may increase | Canola is vulnerable to early fall frost, but it can be planted before wheat

It will be unclear for weeks exactly what farmers will seed this spring.

Prairie acreage is in flux, considering that seeding has still not begun in large parts of the region and a late spring has forced many farmers to reconsider their cropping decisions.

“We could see it swing a million or two acres in a week or two,” said Derek Squair of Agri-Trend Marketing. “Things are changing.”

The Statistics Canada seeding intentions report is usually the best guess for this time of year. Analysts often complain that the three week lag between the survey and publication of results makes the numbers out of date, but in most years the reality is not expected to be vastly different.

However, analysts are challenging two of the report’s major conclusions this year: that farmers will greatly boost spring wheat acreage and slash canola acreage.

Statistics Canada said farmers surveyed at the end of March planned to plant 19.1 million acres of canola, an 11.1 percent drop from last year.

Farmers also intended to increase spring wheat acreage by 14.4 percent to 19.4 million acres.

However, analysts think the late spring will crimp spring wheat acreage and increase shorter season cereals such as barley and oats.

As well, canola acreage could increase from March plans because it can be seeded sooner, has attractive crop insurance coverage and farmers in areas who were considering soybeans and corn could revert to canola.

“My gut feeling is that we’ll get 20 million acres of canola,” said Errol Anderson of Pro Market Communications in Calgary.

“Sometime we’re going to get a seeding window and the crop will go in.”

Anderson expects farmers to seed 18.8 million acres of spring wheat.

Squair expects farmers to plant 23 to 23.5 million acres of all classes of wheat, with much flux between different wheat types as the weather and markets send a blizzard of signals. He believes the canola crop will be 19.5 to 19.7 million acres.

Jon Driedger of FarmLink Marketing Solutions expects a spring wheat crop of 17 million acres and a canola crop of 20 million acres.

Farmers are usually unwilling to play with their rotations because they don’t want to undermine the agronomic productivity of their land, but this year the shrinking growing season means many crop plans could appear to be too risky. High value spring wheat crops could be hurt by frost if they go in too late.

As well, most analysts expect that corn and soybean acres, which have been surging in Manitoba and were expected to become substantial in Saskatchewan this year, could fall every day that seeding it delayed past mid-May.

Canola is also vulnerable to frost and farmers don’t like seeding it late, but it can often be planted before wheat, which could make it an early seeding choice for many farmers.

As well, Squair said crop insurance levels on canola are far more attractive than for spring wheat, so farmers worried about risk will probably find it a safer option.

“Maybe even though we should be seeding wheat this year, we won’t plant it because we don’t have confidence in it,” said Squair.

Driedger said analysts’ guesses are likely to be off because the weather situation is so variable that a few days of good or ill weather will change many farmers’ plans.

“A year like this might make for a few more changes than normal.”

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