Decisions to be made as battle looms over acres

A monumental acreage battle is shaping up for this spring. Viewed in isolation, most grains, oilseeds and specialty crops appear to be a good bet for profitability and therefore an acreage increase, but there are only so many acres to go around.

The Market Analysis Group of Agriculture Canada has taken a stab at predicting the acreage shifts about to occur. You may agree or disagree with the projections, but they’re an interesting starting point for analysis.

The most watched seeding intention is canola, and Agriculture Canada is predicting a three percent increase to about 21.4 million acres. That seems relatively modest given current prices and the prices that can be locked in for fall delivery, but the 600,000 acre increase in canola has to be stolen from other crops.

After falling in 2019 and 2020, Agriculture Canada expects soybean acreage to rebound by 12 percent this spring, a logical assumption given last year’s improved yield results in Manitoba and the current strong prices.

While wheat acreage other than durum is expected to be relatively stable, the anticipated acreage for durum is six percent higher than last year.

On a percentage basis, a large increase is projected for flax — a whopping 22 percent. Flax prices are certainly eye-popping with nearby delivery in the $20 a bushel range and new crop being quoted around $15.

However, with many other profitable options, the swing to flax may not be as large as predicted.

Many producers struggle to achieve strong flax yields, and residue management following harvest can be a headache.

Agriculture Canada is predicting field pea acreage to rise only marginally, but that would still be a near record 4.3 million acres. Meanwhile, lentil area is expected to rise by five percent to more than 4.4 million acres, a logical assumption given the strong prices and profitable returns, but disease concerns could limit that increase.

Among minor acreage crops, Agriculture Canada is expecting a relatively modest eight percent increase in canaryseed, while mustard is pegged at a huge 54 percent rise. Even if that increase occurs, mustard acreage would still be somewhat lower than 2019.

So with canola, soybeans, durum, flax, field peas, lentils canaryseed and mustard all potentially on track for more acres, it’s the coarse grain crops projected to be on the losing end of the acreage battle.

With feed barley worth $6 a bushel in many areas and with new crop contracts at $5 or higher depending upon location, you’d think acreage would be rising. However, malting barley premiums are elusive, and Agriculture Canada expects barley acreage to dip by seven percent this spring.

The expected drop in oat acreage is even greater — down 11 percent. Oat prices are strong, but competition from the oilseeds is expected to capture acres. The same situation faces corn. Across Canada, the acreage of corn grown for grain is expected to drop three percent.

Dry beans, chickpeas and sunflowers are also expected to see acreage slips, but these are minor crops that don’t account for a lot of area.

While I appreciate seeing the analysis, I think Agriculture Canada has barley wrong. I think the surge in oilseeds will largely come out of wheat acreage. Time will tell.

Given the price volatility we’ve seen, as well as factors such as rapidly rising fertilizer costs, this could be a year for big surprises. Armchair analysts might be as accurate as the ones considered professionals.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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