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Canada’s field crop planting intentions are in

Peter McMeekin - Grain Brokers Australia, March 19, 2024

Canadian growers are waiting for the spring thaw to get seeding under way. Photo: Carl deConinck Smith, Saskatchewan

CANADA’S  first planted area estimates for the 2024/25 season were released early last week, with the grower survey results indicating the nation’s farmers intend to plant more oats, durum wheat, corn, lentils and dry field peas compared to last season while planting less spring wheat, canola, soybeans and barley.

Statistics Canada’s field crop survey, which collects information on old crop stocks and seeding intentions of the nation’s principal field crops, was conducted between 14 December 2023, and 22 January 2024. It included around 9,600 respondents from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

This is the second season that Statistics Canada has adopted the relatively early December-January survey period, raising concerns of major area changes leading into the spring sowing period due to adverse weather, geopolitical influences or significant changes in commodity price projections. One important change this year was the time between the survey close and the data release, which was tightened significantly from last year’s April 26 announcement, following plenty of criticism in 2023 due to the delayed publication.

After collating the survey results, Statistics Canada has concluded that the total area planted to the fifteen principal field crops in 2024/25 is expected to be 31.65 million hectares, slightly lower than last season’s record seeded area of 31.73Mha. At the same time, farmers have indicated that the total summer fallow area is forecast to drop to a record low of just under 500,000ha.

Wheat commands the most extensive land area in Canada each season, and the survey results suggest that Canada’s farmers anticipate seeding 10.95Mha to the cereal grain this year, fractionally higher than the 10.94Mha planted in 2023/24, but 6.5pc above the 10.27Mha planted in 2022-23.

Spring wheat plantings, the largest of the three wheat categories, are expected to drop to 7.78Mha this year, down 1.2pc after an 8pc rise last year. The winter wheat area is also seen lower season-on-season, down 3.6pc to 0.6Mha after jumping 12.9pc last year. Conversely, the area seeded to durum wheat is forecast at 2.57Mha, 5.1pc higher than last season and 5.6pc more than the 2022/23 season.

Across the major wheat-producing provinces, farmers in Saskatchewan expect wheat plantings of 5.75Mha, marginally higher than last year. In Alberta, the wheat area is seen 2.2pc higher at 3.28Mha, and grain growers in Manitoba are looking to decrease the wheat area by 0.6pc to 1.34Mha.

Canola return to average

Canola is the second-biggest crop in Canada each year, and combined with wheat, they are forecast to occupy around 62pc of the area plant to field crops this season. The canola area is predicted to fall by around 280,000ha, or 3.1pc, to 8.66Mha, roughly in line with the five-year average but the lowest in four years. While soil moisture is an issue in some regions, lower price expectations are considered the primary driver of the reduction.

At a provincial level, Saskatchewan farmers have reported a 4.9pc decrease in their canola seeding intentions to 4.78Mha, while the area in both Alberta and Manitoba is expected to fall by 2.4pc to 2.51Mha and 1.29Mha, respectively.

Barley set to dip, oats to expand

Barley and oats are the country’s other main winter/spring cereal crops. Nationally, the barley area is projected to fall by 2.5pc to 2.89Mha, 5.3pc below the five-year average, after a 3.9pc rise to 2.96Mha last year. The area is 0.7pc lower in Saskatchewan, 3.7pc lower in Alberta and down by 4.5pc in Manitoba. Oats, on the other hand, is predicted to see a planting revival in 2024/25, up 21.6pc to 1.24Mha after falling out of favour last season when the area dropped by 35.8pc compared to 2022-23 to 1.02Mha.

Pulses rise

The two main pulse crops in Canada each year are dry field peas and lentils, and grower planting intentions for both are higher than last season. The lentil area of 1.55Mha is 4.4pc higher than 2023/24, following a fall of 15.1pc last year compared to 2022-23. The dry field pea story is similar, with a 95pc fall last season followed up by a 2.4pc increase to 1.26Mha this season.

On the row crop front, Canada’s farmers appear to be abandoning soybeans in favour of corn this year. The Statistics Canada farmer survey revealed a 0.9pc fall in soybean planting intentions to 2.26Mha, after jumping 6.8pc last season to 2.28Mha. The corn area had a similar trajectory last year, up 5.5pc to 1.55Mha, and is forecast to rise again this summer by 1.6pc to 1.57Mha.

Ontario is Canada’s biggest row cropping state, planting 59pc and 54pc of the nation’s corn and soybean areas, respectively. The province’s soybean plantings are expected to rise 4.3pc this season and the corn expanse is forecast to rise 0.2pc.

Early production estimates put 2024-25 wheat output at around 34.3 million tonnes, 7.5pc higher than 2023-24. This is based on a harvested area of 98pc of the planted area, normal weather for the balance of the growing season and a return to trend yield of 3.2 tonnes per hectare.

Applying the same weather assumption to canola, using a harvested area 1pc lower than the intended planted area and a trend yield of 2.1t/ha puts 2024-25 output at 18Mt, 1.8pc lower than last season. For barley, typical spring and summer weather conditions should see production hit 10.3Mt using a 1pc loss in planted area and a trend yield of 3.6t/ha.

Rain outlook mixed

Perhaps the biggest impediment to the planting intentions may be the ongoing drought conditions prevailing across much of southern Canada. The impacts of El Nino are forecast to dwindle this spring, which should allow the persistent ridging across Western Canada to break down and allow more storm systems to move through the region. While above-average temperatures are expected across much of the cropping regions this spring, precipitation will be the biggest influence going into the planting window. Without more rainfall to build soil moisture reserves, crops may get off to a poor start early in the growing season, which could easily lead to yield impacts at harvest.

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