Prairie farmers to sow record canola, more wheat

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Canadian farmers look to sow a record-large area with canola and bigger acreages of wheat, oats and barley, as dry conditions potentially give them the best planting weather in several years, a Reuters grain industry poll showed.

To be sure, farmers won’t sink a single seed into the soil for almost another two months, giving price fluctuations and weather ample time to drastically change their plans.

But the survey of 17 analysts and traders underscores optimism that farmers will be able to sow more of the Prairies than they have in recent years when flooding made many fields impassable.

“The last two years, we’ve probably had between six million and seven million acres of forced summerfallow (due to flooding),” said Chuck Penner, analyst at LeftField Commodity Research in Winnipeg. “People want to plant those acres and this year, hopefully, they’ll be able to.”

The trade sees, on average, canola acres rising more than three per cent to 19.5 million acres, with farmers bumping up all-wheat production by 10 per cent to 23.6 million acres.

Barley area looks to swell by 19 per cent to 7.7 million acres and oat acres should climb nine per cent to 3.4 million acres, according to the survey.

Last year, floods took much of southwestern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan out of production. With the spring flooding risk low this year after below-average snowfall, it’s likely that farmers in those regions will resume planting traditional crops there like spring wheat, durum and flax, Penner said.

Record canola

Canola looks poised to expand acres to the biggest area ever, as farmers cash in on the torrid pace of domestic crushing and exports.

“We’re going to see record acres no matter what, and we’re going to need all that (canola production),” Penner said.

Even with the industry pencilling in a record canola area, as of last week new-crop ICE Canada November canola futures had climbed four per cent so far in 2012, supported by strong canola demand and concerns about South American soybeans.

If dryness persists through March, however, farmers are likely to switch some acres to wheat from canola, said a veteran grain trader.

While the trade is optimistic of a big rebound in crop acreage, it isn’t quite as hopeful as Canada’s Agriculture Department, which last month pegged even higher seeded area estimates for most major crops.

CWB wild card

The end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly this year is another wild card.

Farmers who are leery of selling wheat and barley directly to grain handlers or maltsters might minimize how much of those crops they grow. But others have eagerly explored their new options and signed up a small portion of the projected harvest in forward-delivery contracts.

The change in grain-marketing regulations is unlikely to have much noticeable impact on western Canadian planting, said Brenda Tjaden Lepp, co-founder of FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

“I don’t think regulatory change really has a place in farmers’ planting decisions — I’m not really hearing that,” she said.

Statistics Canada will issue its first forecast of planting intentions on April 24, based on a farmer survey.

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