Hard-luck Prairie farmers may get late-season weather break

Winnipeg | Reuters –– Farmers in Western Canada, whose crops have been battered this year by drought and hail, may be in line for a break in the weather as they bring in the harvest.

Temperatures are forecast to remain above freezing for more than a week, delaying the first significant harvest frost later than normal. For farmers still waiting for canola to ripen, milder-than-usual overnight temperatures may generate a few more bushels of production per acre.

“On a year where we’ve basically had frost every month except July, it would be pretty important,” said Trevor Scherman, who farms near Battleford, Sask. “It would be awesome if it would hold off.”

Scherman had to reseed all of his canola in May after the spring frost, pushing back its maturity date. Crops in his area have also been damaged by dry conditions and hail.

The first killing frost during harvest isn’t likely to reach Alberta and central Saskatchewan until around Sept. 16, and could touch Manitoba on Sept. 18, said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist at Maryland-based MDA Information Systems.

Normally, the first widespread frost occurs up to a week earlier.

Canada, the world’s biggest canola producer and sixth-largest wheat grower, is on track to producing its smallest all-wheat and canola crops in five years, due mainly to dry weather, Statistics Canada reported last month.

Even so, global grain supplies are poised to reach record highs, and the U.S. is expected to produce a bumper crop of soybeans, which like canola, is used to produce vegetable oil and meal.

Most of the region’s canola will advance enough to avoid harm from frost by next week, except for some pockets of Saskatchewan’s northern growing area and western Manitoba, said Bruce Burnett, weather and crop specialist at grain marketer G3 Canada.

Frost may damage soybeans, a late-developing crop, in Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, he added.

Wheat, barley and oats are less vulnerable to frost.

Heavy rains late last week forced farmers to suspend the harvest in Canada’s main crop-growing region.

Burnett estimates that farmers have harvested 35-40 per cent of Western Canada’s canola and just over half of spring wheat, ahead of the usual pace due to brisk progress in southern areas.

Rod Nickel is a Reuters correspondent covering the ag and mining sectors from Winnipeg.

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