Canadian farmers look to go ‘all in’ this spring

Grain Brokers Australia May 2, 2023

Planting durum late last month in Canada. Photo: Stamp Seeds

CANADIAN farmers are planning to seed the biggest wheat area in 22 years, according to this season’s grower planting intentions survey. The area planted to wheat, canola, corn, barley and soybeans is projected to increase in 2023, while the area seeded to oats, lentils and dry peas is forecast to decrease compared to last year.

Statistics Canada released its principal field crop areas report on April 26, detailing the planting intentions of about 9500 Canadian farmers surveyed between 12 December 2022, and 14 January 2023. Historically, this report has been conducted across the month of March, and for that reason, it was often referred to as the “March intentions” report. The number of growers surveyed this season is down from the more traditional 11,500 who contributed to last season’s review.

According to Statistics Canada: “…this change is part of the ongoing AgZero initiative within the Agriculture Division at Statistics Canada, which aims to assess the feasibility of using alternative methods to produce quality estimates.”

It is an interesting move, as surveying fewer growers almost four months before the planting window
opens, as opposed to four weeks before it opens, is highly likely to reduce the accuracy of the resultant data. Some in the industry are calling it code for belt-tightening.

In summary, last week’s report pegs the total area seeded to principal field crops in Canada for harvest in the 2023-24 season at 31.5 million hectares, a year-on-year increase of 263,000ha. The primary contributor to this increase appears to be a 272,000ha decrease in the summer fallow area, forecast at a historical low of 538,000ha.

Jump for wheat

An increase in the wheat area had been widely tipped, and the Canadian farmers knew the money was on. The total wheat area came in at 10.91Mha, an increase of 639,000ha or 6.2 percent compared to last year, and is 8.8pc higher than the five-year average. This comprises 2.45Mha of durum, 7.85Mha of spring wheat and 613,000ha of winter wheat planted in the autumn of 2022, and represents annual increases of 0.9pc, 7.5 and 12.7pc respectively.

At a province level, farmers in Saskatchewan anticipate planting 5.75Mha of wheat, 7.3pc higher than in 2022. The spring wheat area is up 10.2pc, but the durum area is projected to increase by only 2.9pc. In Alberta, the wheat area is up 4.2pc to 3.24Mha compared to last season, with the spring wheat acreage jumping 5.9pc but the durum area falling by 5.4pc. Manitoba farmers plan to seed 3.2Mha to wheat in the coming campaign, 3.3pc higher than a year earlier.

Canola is the second-biggest crop in Canada, and the 2023 planted area is estimated to be 8.74Mha, 0.9pc higher than the 8.66Mha planted in 2022, and quite close to the five-year average. Saskatchewan has over half the seeded area at 4.78Mha, 3.7pc higher than last year. Alberta is the second biggest producer at 2.59Mha, up 2.6pc, while the farmers in Manitoba plan to reduce their planted area by 0.9pc to 1.34Mha.

While the barley planting intentions are higher at 2.87Mha, the increase of 0.6pc is quite modest relative to wheat and sits 3.8pc lower than the five-year average. The expected plantings in
Saskatchewan and Manitoba are down 4.7pc and 14.4pc, respectively, to 1.05Mha and 147,000ha. While the grower survey was done before the market rumours ramped up, a resumption of Australian barley exports to China could adversely impact Canada’s export program and potentially further limit
spring plantings.

Oats is the other cereal of significance in Canada each season, and relatively high stock levels from last year’s harvest are being blamed for a 22.4pc decrease in planting intentions to 1.24Mha. This would
be the lowest oat area in five years and sits 15.7pc below the five-year average.

Pulses round out the winter cropping program, with the lentil area forecast to shrink by 8pc to 1.61Mha. Around 90pc of Canada’s lentil area is in Saskatchewan, where farmers plan to decrease the planted area by 7.7pc in favour of wheat and canola. The nation’s dry pea acreage is expected to fall by 4.6pc compared to 2022 to 1.3Mha.

Row crops shuffle west

On the row-crop front, Canadian farmers plan on increasing their soybean plantings by 4.5pc to 2.23Mha, a tad higher than the five-year average and emphasised by a noticeable shift westward. Ontario is the largest producing province, but the projected acreage is down 5.4pc to 1.17Mha, and
Quebec is down 4.8pc to 368,000ha. Manitoba is picking up the slack, with the forecast area
increasing by 37.3pc to around 630,000ha, the largest area seeded in five years.

Nationally, farmers plan to seed a record 1.51Mha to corn for grain production in 2023, up 2.8pc on last year. Ontario accounts for around 60pc of corn that is taken through to harvest for grain production, and the province’s farmers have advised that they plan to increase plantings by 0.2pc year on
year to 930,000ha. If this comes to fruition, it will surpass the province’s planted area record, set in 2022.

This year’s corn seeding in Quebec is expected to increase by 3.1pc to around 372,000ha.  With the seeding window now open, planting of this season’s spring and summer crops is slated to ramp up as
paddocks dry out enough from the winter snow cover to allow field work to commence. The snowpack was adequate in most cropping regions, but parts of the Prairies have experienced the second-driest start to a year since 1978. An underlying dryness developed in the autumn, and parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba still need significant spring rains to kick off the campaign confidently. The planting intentions may be in, but the spring weather conditions will ultimately determine individual cropping rotations and final seeded areas.


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