Prairie canola in ‘worrisome’ shape

Nighttime temperatures called key as heat wave settles over Prairies

The canola crop in some parts of the prairies is suffering in 2021, especially in North Dakota. | Mike Raine photo

Canola crops in North Dakota, southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta are in desperate need of water but they look terrific in many other parts of the Prairies, say industry officials.

Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Association in North Dakota, said the crop in his state is an unmitigated disaster.

“This is unprecedented what we’ve seen so far,” he said.

“It’s struggling. There’s just no sugar-coating it.”

More than half of the crop was rated in poor or very poor condition as of June 20, which is the worst rating he can remember.

“It’s just off the charts,” said Coleman.

Crops in the southwest corner of the state are in decent shape but anything in the central to northeast portion of the state is struggling due to drought and hot weather and there is no relief in the forecast.

Farmers planted a record 1.8 million acres in North Dakota this year but production will likely be much smaller than last year’s 1.52 million tonnes.

“It could easily be cut in half if things continue the way they’re looking here,” said Coleman.

“I mean, this is as bad as we’ve ever seen it.”

Clint Jurke, agronomy director with the Canola Council of Canada, said dry spots in southwestern Saskatchewan, southeastern Alberta and the Peace Region are concerning and there is no immediate relief on the horizon.

But “just-in-time rains” in other parts of the Prairies have kept the crop moving along nicely.

“We’re definitely not prepared to say there is a disaster at this point,” he said.

MarketsFarm analyst Bruce Burnett said the crop in Western Canada is in better shape than North Dakota but it is still worrisome.

“Can we even get to last year’s yield level, which was disappointing?” he wondered.

Burnett noted that the forecast for the week starting June 28 calls for hot weather throughout much of the Prairie region with daytime temperatures soaring above 30 C.

“It’s a concerning situation,” he said.

Jurke said a lot will depend on nighttime temperatures. If they fall below 20 C then the crop can recover and scavenge moisture from the soil.

He said the majority of the crop won’t be in the full flowering stage of development for another two to three weeks, which could minimize the amount of heat blast damage.

“We might get lucky,” he said.

Jurke lives in Lloydminster and the crops in that area and in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan in general are looking “really good.” They had plenty of residual soil moisture carried over from last year.

“The crop is resilient. Every year we see some challenges thrown at it and yet it somehow seems to produce some pretty good yields. I’m optimistic.”

Coleman worries that the upcoming heatwave could be the final nail in the coffin for North Dakota’s already stunted crop.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a 1,200 pound average yield if we’re lucky,” he said.

That amounts to 24 bushels per acre. Last year’s average yield was 39 bu. per acre.

“The crushing industry has got to be pretty nervous right now,” said Coleman.

He believes that is why nearby canola futures prices started climbing late this week.

sean.pratt@producer.com

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