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Canola: the heavyweight champion of prairie crops

There is a good chance Canadian farmers will seed a record large canola crop this spring.

It might also for the first time exceed the all-wheat acreage.

If so, it would become the undisputed dominant crop in Western Canada.

Statistics Canada releases its seeding intentions report April 21. It will be based on surveys with farmers in the second half of March.

A Commodity News Service pre-report trade survey showed that analysts think canola area will be steady to two million acres larger, while all-wheat area will likely wind up steady to two million acres less. All-wheat includes all spring wheat types, winter wheat and durum.

If the high end of the range of pre-report guesses is correct for canola and the low end of the all-wheat range is right, then canola area would be 1.3 million acres more than all-wheat.

That would be a spectacular achievement for canola. As this century dawned in 2000, seeded canola area was 12.2 million acres, less than half the all-wheat area of 27.4 million acres.

In 2007, canola area was 15.8 million acres, for the first time exceeding spring wheat acres of 15.1 million.

The biggest canola area to date, and the first time it topped 20 million, was in 2012, when farmers seeded 22.02 million acres. That year spring wheat was 16.9 million acres and all-wheat was 23.8 million.

The gains in canola have come partly from wheat, but not all.

All-wheat area is down eight percent from the second half of the 1990s.

It has held on better than it has in the United States. In the second half of the 1990s, U.S. wheat area often topped 70 million acres. This year it is forecast at 46 million, down 34 percent.

However, Canadian barley has taken a real kicking. From 11.5 to 12.9 million acres in the mid-1990s before the end of the Crow Benefit transportation subsidy, it is now down by half, posting only 6.4 million acres last year.

Canola acres have also come from the fact that summerfallow area is a fraction of what it was. It was a little less than two million acres last year, about 9.5 million less than in 2000 and 14.8 million less than 1995.

A record large canola area with average yields would not be a marketing problem. The carry-in for 2017-18 will likely be smaller than in the current year, so even with a bigger crop the total amount of canola available would likely be only slightly larger than the current year supply of about 20.5 million tonnes. Crushers and the export market have shown this year that they can handle that amount.

The bigger challenge is the danger of disease build-up associated with tight rotations.

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