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Late Spring Dampens Forecast

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Unless there’s a miracle, Western Canadian farmers will harvest a much smaller crop this year compared to last and the five-year average, according to the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) forecast.

The outlook won’t surprise farmers struggling through a colder-than-normal spring, late frosts and excess moisture in much of Manitoba, which has delayed seeding.

The same goes for drought-stricken farmers through large parts of west-central Saskatchewan and central Alberta who need above-normal rains to even get a crop.

“We cannot afford to have an early frost here at all,” Bruce Burnett, the CWB’s director of weather and market analysis told reporters June 11. “That’s something we can’t afford on the Prairies to have at any location.”

With normal rain and temperatures for the rest of the growing season, harvest will be two weeks later than normal, Burnett said.

Assuming average weather, Burnett predicts production of the six major grains – wheat, barley, canola, oats, rye and flax – will total 43.8 million tonnes, down nine per cent from 2008 and 20 per cent lower than the five-year average.

Canola looks better

Canola production, which Burnett predicts will hit 10.2 million tonnes, is the only crop of the six majors to exceed the five-year average. That’s due to a combination of increased acres and higher-yielding varieties.

If average conditions prevail, Burnett predicts Western farmers will still harvest 20.8 million tonnes of wheat, including 4.4 million of durum. That would be a drop of 18 per cent from last year’s 25.5 million-tonne crop and 10 per cent under the five-year average.

The CWB’s forecast assumes 23.36 million acres of wheat were sown and average yields of 33.4 bushels an acre.

Under better-than-ideal conditions, wheat production could reach 22.1 million tonnes, but under less-than-average conditions production could be as low as 18 million. (See table)

Milling wheat looks tight

Other wheat producing areas are struggling too, including the United States and Argentina. Argentine wheat plantings are expected to be the lowest on record due to drought and government policy that discourages wheat plantings, Burnett said. However, Australia is expected to increase production after three years of drought.

Burnett doesn’t expect much change in new crop world wheat prices.

“But having said that, the milling wheat quality side is very, very tight this year despite some increased carry-in because of the potential for quality damage here,” he added. “It means there should be some be some good premiums on the quality side and it will keep that spread between the lower and higher quality wheats relatively high.”

Large parts of west-central Saskatchewan and central Alberta were dry last fall and received little precipitation during the winter and less-than-average rainfall this spring, Burnett said.

Almost all of Western Canada has recorded below normal temperatures for the last five or six months.

As of June 10, Growing Degree Days across the West ranged from 47 to 66 per cent of the average. Regina and Winnipeg were at 47 and 49 per cent of normal, respectively.

Whitehorse, Yukon, received 186 Growing Degree Days, one more than Regina.

Burnett blamed the cold weather on “an anomaly” over Hudson Bay keeping the region colder than normal, similar to the system in 2004. [email protected]

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