Bumper crops expected

The 2016 harvest is shaping up to be a whopper, according to Western Canada’s largest elevator companies.

But as usual, there’s a disclaimer: It’s still early and lots can happen between now and harvest.

“It looks pretty good throughout the Prairies,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director with the Western Grain Elevators Association.

“But obviously, it’s early days and things can change ….”

The WGEA represents most large grain companies operating in Western Canada.

Membership includes Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Parrish & Heimbecker, Paterson, Richardson and Viterra.

Last month, association members provided harvest estimates for the 2016-17 crop year, which runs Aug. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017.

Based on those, western Canadian farmers are lined up to harvest another bumper crop.

On average, WGEA members project a minimum harvest of about 63 million tonnes, an average of about 68 million tonnes, and a high-end potential that could exceed 74 million tonnes.

WGEA estimates were included in a June 22 letter to Canada’s two largest railways, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

If the WGEA estimates hold true, the 2016-17 crop would be the second largest in history and possibly the largest, Sobkowich said.

The largest crop ever recorded in Western Canada came in 2013-14 when a whopping 76.8 million tonnes of all crop types were harvested in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

In anticipation of the massive harvest, farmers, grain companies and railways have begun to contemplate the possible challenges.

Railway officials offered assurances that they are prepared.

Sobkowich said WGEA members are pleased to hear that railway companies are aware of the potentially large crop.

WGEA members learned valuable lessons during the grain transportation crisis of 2013-14.

For example, export sales are likely to be “a bit more reserved” during periods of high volume.

Major grain companies also invested more than $760 million in grain handling infrastructure and productivity improvements in 2013 and 2014, including more than $300 million in port terminal expansions, and improvements have also been made since then.

Nonetheless, grain companies ability to ship grain still hinges on the railways.

“The grain companies do communicate to the railways what their sales programs look like through Thunder Bay, through the West Coast, domestically and to the U.S.,” Sobkowich said.

“But the biggest variable is whether we’re going to get those cars spotted in the country when the railways say they’re going to supply them.”

In addition to new crop estimates, WGEA membership projects a 2015-16 carry-out of more than 8.75 million tonnes.

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