Canola, soybean acres surge in seeding estimates

Canadian farmers had high hopes for increased seeded area when Statistics Canada surveyed them in March, but recent cold, wet weather is leading to concerns about muddy fields and hard to manage unharvested crop.  |  File Photo

Somewhere, somehow, farmers have found more than two million extra acres for the 2017 crop production season, according to Statistics Canada.

That will allow farmers to boost canola acres to a stunning 22.4 million, expand Manitoba soybean acres to 2.2 million and raise oat acres 20.6 percent to 3.4 million — all while allowing them to keep all-wheat acres stable at 23.2 million.

It’s a puzzling situation for analysts because it doesn’t seem like a year when all crops will be big moneymakers.

“You can understand people pushing to the max on canola and soybeans … but I wouldn’t think the present price structure of grains and oilseeds (would be) encouraging the most marginal land to be brought back into production,” said Neil Townsend of FarmLink Marketing.

Total Canadian crop area, not including tame hay and summerfallow, increased to 77.57 million acres, up from 75.53 million the year before.

Brian Voth of IntelliFarm said he was also surprised by the high total acreage.

“Are they breaking up pastures? Are they going corner to corner? Are they seeding sloughs?” Voth wondered an hour after the Statistics Canada March estimate of principal field crops acreage was released April 21.

The surge in canola and soybean acres went well beyond most analysts’ expectations, but the likely cause was well-accepted before the report: canola and soybeans generate the best profits for most farmers.

Townsend said FarmLink’s internal numbers almost matched StatsCan’s record 22.4 million acre estimate, as numerous clients said they planned to favour the crop. That is up almost 10 percent from last year.

“They’re definitely responding to incentive,” said Townsend.

“Those are probably the two that pencil out the best.”

Brennan Turner of Farm Lead summed up the report this way: “Every durum and lentil acre that you lost appears to be going into flax, spring wheat, canola or oats.”

Spring wheat acres surprised many analysts. Durum fell by one million acres, which was expected, but spring wheat area rose 1.26 million acres.

Spring wheat and durum crops had terrible disease problems last year, but while farmers fled from durum, there appears to be even more desire to grow spring wheat this year, especially in Alberta, where area is expected to grow by about 800,000 acres to 6.2 million.

Turner noted that while the number seems high compared to last year, it is similar to the spring wheat area in 2013 and 2014.

Soybeans, as expected by most in the trade, will see substantially bigger acreage, but many were surprised by the size of the increase. Manitoba’s acreage will swell to 2.2 million, jumping 34.6 percent from last year. Saskatchewan soybean area is expected to triple to 730,000 acres from 240,000.

Oats were expected to increase, but the almost 600,000 acre projected increase is much more than most trade expectations.

In Manitoba, corn acreage could reach 475,000 this year, StatsCan said.

However, Canadian barley acres should fall eight percent to 5.9 million.

Townsend said the big overall acreage number is a surprise, but cautioned that farmers still have crops in the field from 2016 and might not be able to push as hard when they get into their fields.

“They (were) operators feeling the most optimistic,” said Town-send about farmer attitudes in March when the survey was done.

Statistics Canada surveyed about 11,600 farmers March 16 to 31.

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