Pulse and special crops expected to shine in 2014

The Statistics Canada seeding intentions survey’s surprisingly low canola acreage number helped lift the canola futures market.

The report, a snapshot of what farmers were planning when surveyed in the last week of March, reflects farmers’ experience this crop year.

The record breaking harvest and the inability of the railways to increase movement in step with the production increase means there will be lots of canola and wheat in farm storage at the end of the crop year.

The stocks-to-use ratio for wheat (excluding durum) at the end of the current crop year is expected to be 37 percent (up from 16.8 percent the year before) and canola is expected to be 21 percent (up from 4.3 percent).

As a result, there was no need to emphasize those crops in the seeding plan. Canola seeded area is expected to fall 0.7 percent, compared to an increase that was expected earlier in the year. Spring wheat area is expected to fall 5.6 percent and durum 2.6 percent.

The stocks-to-use ratios in pulse crops appear to be much more manageable at 13 percent for peas and 10 percent for lentils.

Also, with nitrogen fertilizer prices up by one-third since last fall, the nitrogen-fixing attribute of pulses is appreciated.

Pulse acreage is concentrated in Saskatchewan, so farmers familiar with the crop in that province cut canola and wheat and went for pulses.

Saskatchewan farmers can also be distinguished by their refound interest in flax, which was one of the most profitable crops in the current crop year. Acreage is expected to soar 72 percent in that province, an increase of 620,000 acres. Manitoba area is expected to climb 41 percent and Alberta by 28 percent.

I hope all those acres are planted with certified seed proven to be free of any residue of the genetically modified CDC Triffid variety, which cost Canada the European market for several years.

The Canadian flax industry made a huge effort to eliminate Triffid from the seed supply, and it is paying off with improved sales to Europe.

However, that could be threatened again if a few growers opt to use old, Triffid-contaminated saved seed.

In Manitoba, canola area was little changed, but the rising popularity of soybeans took acres away from wheat.

Manitoba soybean area is expected to reach 1.3 million acres, up 24 percent from last year and up 63 percent from two years ago.

Soybeans are also spreading into Saskatchewan. Growers intend to plant 300,000 acres this year, up from 180,000 last year.

However, the rising interest in corn on the Prairies is taking a breather, with Manitoba corn acres at 300,000, down from 380,000 in 2013.

Barley area is expected to be down sharply, with record small acreage in Alberta and Manitoba and a tie for the smallest area in Saskatchewan.

Alberta is taking a different path than its prairie sisters, with farmers planning to seed more canola, up 1.6 percent, and more oats, up 11 percent.

Overall, oat area is expected to be about steady, which is no surprise given the trouble transporting Canadian crop to American users.

Another notable development is the reduced outlook for summerfallow across the Prairies.

Farmers plan only 3.37 million acres in summerfallow, down 13 percent from the year before and a record low.

Summerfallow area has trended down since the move to continuous cropping began in the 1980s, made possible by herbicides and minimum disturbance seeding.

Summerfallow peaked at almost 37 million acres in 1970, the year that the Lower Inventories for Tomorrow program was implemented to reduce seeded area to address burdensome grain stocks.

The trend was broken in 2010 and 2011, when excess spring moisture prevented seeding and forced the number up over 10 million acres.

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