Canola yields expected to be much worse than first thought

Ottawa’s optimistic forecast met with shock as those on the ground expect more dire outcome

If the early estimates are correct, Canada’s canola crop will be at least 10 bu. per acre below Agriculture Canada’s forecast and possibly a whole lot more. | File photo

Canada’s national average canola yield will be 10 to 20 bushels per acre below normal this year, according to estimates from farmers and provincial governments.

Alberta is the first province to publish an official estimate. It is forecasting 24.9 bu. per acre, well below the previous five-year average of 41.7.

It cautions that its estimate is based on “extremely limited information” and will be updated bi-weekly.

Cory Jacob, oilseed specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, thinks the province’s crop will likely end up in the 20 to 30 bu. per acre range.

“Somewhere in there might be realistic,” he said.

The low end of that range would be half of the previous five-year average of 40.7 bu. per acre.

Jack Froese, director of Manitoba Canola Growers, said the crop will be well below the average of 41.6 bu. per acre in his home province.

“I just can’t see a 30 bushel average, I just can’t,” he said.

That is why growers were aghast when Agriiculture Canada released its July 20 production report calling for a national average yield of 39.27 bu. per acre., just slightly below the five-year average of 41.4.

The government is forecasting 19.89 million tonnes of production, while the trade believes it will be around 18.5 million tonnes.

“They’re way off, way off,” said Froese.

“I don’t think there’s a 13 million tonne crop out there, let alone 18.”

If the early estimates are correct, the national yield will be at least 10 bu. per acre below Agriculture Canada’s forecast and possibly a whole lot more.

That would shave five million tonnes off of the government’s production number, resulting in the smallest crop since the 13.87 million tonnes produced in the drought of 2012.

Statistics Canada will release its survey-based yield and production estimates on Aug. 30, adding some clarity to the situation.

The vast majority of the prairie region is in drought, having received between 40 and 85 percent of average precipitation since the start of the growing season, according to Statistics Canada.

A satellite-based vegetation index map shows conditions are worse than the last severe drought in 2002 in the extreme southwest of Saskatchewan and southern Alberta.

Jacob said crops in Saskatchewan are stunted, flowering early and some have a blue tinge rather than the usual healthy green colour.

There has been considerable pod abortion and reduced seed count in the ones that formed.

“It would be a crop that is quite easy to walk through whereas canola can be quite a challenge when it’s a healthy, lush crop,” said Jacob.

Kevin Serfas, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said farmers in southern Alberta will likely harvest 20 to 25 percent of a normal crop.

The canola on his farm near Turin, Alta., is 30 centimetres high and each plant has about six empty pods on it.

“It’s just cooked,” he said.

Irrigated crops are faring well and there are areas such as west of Red Deer that should do fine but for many farmers, it is a complete disaster.

Froese said canola crops near his farm in Winkler, Man., are usually flat and lodged at this time of year but they are standing bolt upright.

The crop is too light to be swayed by the wind.

“You can drive by at 50 m.p.h. and you can still see the rows,” he said.

Modern crop genetics usually handle difficult weather conditions pretty well but he’s looking at 30 percent of a normal crop this year.

“And I may be on the high side,” said Froese.

Jacob said yields are most likely set now that the crop has entered the podding stage of development.

If anything, yields might be heading lower if there is hail damage or further carnage caused by the plague of grasshoppers that has descended on the parched prairie region.

Grasshoppers are not the only pest that is out of control this year, said Autumn Barnes, an agronomist with the Canola Council of Canada.

“We have astronomical numbers of lygus (bugs),” she said during a recent University of Lethbridge webinar.

“Last year around this time, the highest numbers of lygus you might have heard of is two or three per stake. This year, I’ve seen over 20.”

The heat disrupted pollen production because many species of bees have a tendency to reduce foraging in the warmer weather, she said.

“Add to that this crazy smoke we’ve had, that’s another thing that impacts pollinators,” said Barnes.

Jacob said the early-season optimism in the farming community has been replaced by pessimism but he noted that all is not lost for some growers.

At today’s prices of $20 per bu. a farmer who manages to harvest a 20 bu. per acre crop is still generating $400 per acre of revenue.

That is the same amount of revenue as a farmer who pulled off a 40 bu. per acre crop in years past when canola was selling for $10 per acre.

Serfas said it is true that growers who harvest half a crop may still do all right.

“But if your average is 35 and you get five, that math doesn’t work,” he said.

“That’s the place we’re in.”

For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.

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