Durum growers ‘can’t buy a break’

With the durum harvest rapidly approaching in Western Canada, many analysts are wondering how the dry conditions and extreme heat will affect yields.

Yet there is one aspect about this year’s crop they already know: increased seeded acreage this spring and market access problems hindering longer-term durum sales mean farmers might want to temper expectations.

“It’s almost in a way, you can’t buy a break,” said Bruce Burnett, director of Glacier FarmMedia’s MarketsFarm.

He said the combination of plentiful supplies and problems with traditional durum customers in Turkey and Italy will come into play as the crop year progresses.

He said a good North Dakota durum crop may also limit sales opportunities for Canadian durum into traditional American markets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates released Aug. 10 rated the North Dakota durum crop as 80 percent good to excellent. The U.S. has 35.9 million bushels of durum in storage and 1.89 million seeded acres coming off in this year’s harvest.

In Canada, supplies are also strong.

Burnett said even though this year’s durum harvest will have smaller yields in many areas, it will not have a major impact on overall supplies.

“I think one of the problems the market is going to have (is) we’ve increased our durum area significantly this year,” he said.

Canadian farmers seeded 6.185 million acres of durum this year, compared to 5.205 million acres in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. Saskatchewan accounted for 4.99 million acres.

While lack of moisture and a prolonged heat wave have affected the durum-growing areas of southwestern Saskatchewan and into Alberta, Burnett said other durum areas have fared better.

He said areas of south-central Saskatchewan around Assiniboia saw much improved moisture, but the heat will pull down prospects.

“So the yield potentials are not where you think they’d be, given some of the early season precipitation at least.”

Barry Taylor, who farms near Southey, Sask., said most durum in his region looks decent. He said most of his 900 durum acres received about average moisture, but most of that came early in the growing season.

He said the quality looks about average for his area, but prices are not as good as they could be and he’s hoping to see that turn around.

“I’ve got all my durum and I got all my lentils from last year, so I got to sell something,” he said.

“We’ll get rid of it all. Once we start combining and we see what kind of quality it is, it should be good.”

Burnett said analysts will know more about the quality of this year’s harvest in a week or two, but so far it looks like yield prospects for the southern durum areas decline the further you move west from Assiniboia.

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