Mild weather poses risks for Prairie winter wheat

CNS Canada — Milder-than-normal temperatures across Western Canada over the past week could raise some issues for its winter wheat crops, though snow cover and conditions through the rest of the winter will also be important.

“It’s not ideal conditions for winter wheat, and I’d anticipate that we’d see some damage,” said CWB analyst Bruce Burnett, adding that higher-than-normal abandonment was a possibility. However, he said, the extent of any damage will depend on the snow cover.

Temperatures above the freezing mark have been seen across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta over the past few days and are forecast to continue in many locations until Wednesday, according to Environment Canada data. Normals for this time of year are considerably colder.

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Temperatures generally aren’t warm enough to take the crops out of dormancy, but forecasts call for colder weather by the end of the week and the freeze/thaw action at this time of the year can damage the plants, said Burnett.

However, many winter wheat-growing areas still have reasonable snow cover and the unseasonably warm conditions have yet to cause any serious harm to the winter wheat, said Jake Davidson, executive director of Winter Cereals Canada.

As long as there was some snow cover, he said, warmer temperatures were also slowing the progression of ground freezing.

Davidson said the winter wheat was still somewhat cold-tolerant at this time of year, but tolerance decreases as the winter progresses. Warm weather in late February or early March, followed by a cold snap, would be of much more concern, he said.

Water on top of the soil would also be a concern if it froze, but Davidson said the snowmelt hadn’t led to any reported standing water yet.

Looking ahead, Prairie winter wheat acres were down on the year, due to weather conditions in the fall, but Davidson said producers were still showing interest in the crop.

About 665,000 acres of winter wheat were seeded in Western Canada in the fall of 2014, roughly half of the level seen the previous year, according to Statistics Canada data.

Davidson said a return above 1.2 million acres was possible noting that “if the weather co-operates, people will plant it.”

— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for MarketsFarm specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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