Producers ponder planting plans

Weather, input prices weigh on the minds of many as farmers wonder what to put in the ground this year

It might be the weather, it might be the prices or it might be a combination of the two.

Whatever the reasons, prairie farmers are keeping their seeding plans close to their vests and their wallets in their pockets this spring.

Agronomists and seed and fertilizer dealers say farmers have been slow to move on the necessities of spring, but products are finally starting to move.

“They aren’t making up their minds really quickly this year,” said seed grower Ed Seidle of Medstead, Sask.

“There is a lot of indecision out there considering what time of year it is.… Lots are getting their farm-saved seed tested and the labs are really busy this spring.… There was a lot of poor quality crop out there and lots of seed cleaning and testing underway on the farms.”

Robert Saik, who heads up Agri-trend in Red Deer, said he is wondering about the delay this spring.

“When will farmers pull the trigger this year. They aren’t committing early this season, that’s for sure,” he said.

“It’s not just in Alberta or Saskatchewan or Manitoba. We are seeing it in Montana and the Dakotas.”

Fertilizer prices have been down compared to most of last year’s growing season, but they have been creeping up from their December lows.

Prices have been stubbornly strong, despite the fact that some of the fundamentals that should determine the value have gone soft.

That said, the Canadian dollar hasn’t been friendly to nitrogen and phosphorus.

Wayne Amos of Big Dog Seeds at Oxbow, Sask., said the demand for seed has been strong, but producers are focusing on diversifying their crops.

“Red lentils, sold out. Yellow peas, sold out since early January. We haven’t seen a big uptake in flax acres so far, but farmers are looking for opportunities outside of wheat and canola,” he said.

“The big challenge down here is the moisture. We are facing some very wet soils. One more big snow or a couple of inches of rain and we’re back into trouble again this spring.”

He said field operations will be delayed in some parts of the Prairies.

“At Gainsborough, (Sask.,) they are telling me they are still three weeks from driving across a field, let alone seeding it. And that is lighter land and it tends to be early seeding over there,” he said.

“I can’t help thinking that this sort of thing is playing with farmers’ psychology about getting started or committing to things early this year.”

Soil moisture remains strong in most of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with the exceptions of the western Red River Valley and west-central Saskatchewan.

Central Alberta also has drier conditions, but rain and snow have added missing spring moisture there.

Winter precipitation was 150 to 200 percent of average in the Saskatchewan and Alberta border region, north of Swift Current, Sask.

The Peace River district of Alberta and British Columbia remains dry, but the Regina Plains and eastern Saskatchewan are wet, which will slow spring seeding plans for many producers, no matter how early the weather warms.

Saik said it is “more than the weather at work this year.”

Farm machinery dealers and manufacturers aren’t seeing brisk sales the way they did for the past five years.

Charlie O’Brien of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said it has been a slow year for farm equipment sales, except for livestock tools.

“We hear that (grain) farmers are still buying what they need, but they need to have a compelling reason, such as greater efficiency or a new technology step to make that decision,” he said.

Four wheel drive tractor sales were down 55 percent from last year by the end of February , and combines fell more than 60 percent. Two wheel drive tractors higher than 100 horsepower were off as well, although only 12 percent from last year.

Seidle said most of the growers he has spoken with are slower to react, but he feels it’s more than one thing on their minds.

“Lower commodity prices are there, sure, but most farms are penciling in a profit. I think maybe it’s just a combination of factors and they are avoiding making any mistakes and managing risk,” he said.

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