Canadian grain farmers eye improved season

Peter McMeekin, Grain Brokers Australia July 9, 2024

Some cereal crops in Canada have piled on yield potential in recent weeks. Photo: Brock Shearer, Saskatchewan

AFTER A winter dominated by exceptionally warm and dry weather across the Canadian Prairies, early-season fears that this summer would be a repeat of the last, punctuated by heat, dryness, and raging forest fires, have eased dramatically, with ample moisture and cooler weather bringing an air of optimism to the nation’s farmers.

This time last year, many Prairie farmers were in the grip of a season from hell, as the El Niño weather phenomenon that brought warm and dry weather to the winter strengthened across the boreal spring and summer. With very little relief from the drought conditions through to harvest, principal field crop production in 2023-24 declined dramatically.

Fast forward 12 months, and the El Niño weather pattern that warms ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, leading to warm and dry conditions over the Prairies, is dissipating. More normal seasonal conditions have returned, with low-pressure systems that cover large areas and bring lots of rain more frequently. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) meteorologist Terri Lang, the change is likely due to the straightening of the jet stream, the delineator between warmer and colder air, that happens once El Niño weakens.

At the end of May 2024, 67 percent of the agricultural lands across the Canadian Prairies were still in some form of dryness or drought, but that was down from 99pc at the end of April. According to the Canadian Drought Monitor, “extreme” or “exceptional” levels of drought had ended in eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan by May 31, the first time that has been the case in more than 12 months. Large swathes of south-western Saskatchewan and south-eastern Alberta are now free of any drought classification for the first time in around three years.

However, the ECCC’s longer-range forecast points to a warmer and drier-than-normal summer, which could threaten final production in 2024-25. Much of the Prairies has at least a 60pc chance of seeing above-average temperatures, and a 40-60pc chance of seeing below-average precipitation through July and August. That said, the spring was also supposed to be warmer and drier than usual but ended up cooler and wetter.

Canola cribs wheat area, durum up

The favourable start to the season and some early spring price incentives have seen Canadian farmers plant more canola at the expense of wheat than initially indicated back in March, according to the latest principal crop area and production estimates released by Statistics Canada in the last week of June. The June 2024 Field Crop Survey of 25,000 farms was conducted from May 15 to June 12 and put the total area planted to Canada’s principal field crops this season at 31.82 million hectares (Mha), fractionally lower than the 31.9Mha seeded in 2023-24.

The government agency reported canola seedings for the 2024/25 season at 8.91Mha, up around 2.9pc or 250,000ha from the March planting intentions forecast but fractionally lower than the 8.94Mha planted in last year’s campaign. The seeded footprint compares favourably with the five-year average of 8.7Mha.

In Saskatchewan, where more than half of the country’s canola is grown, farmers reported planting 4.9Mha to the oilseed crop this season, 2.5pc lower than in 2023. In Alberta, growers advised plantings this spring were 2.59Mha, up 0.4pc from 2023, while in Manitoba, the seeded area is up 6.6pc to 3.3Mha.

Statistics Canada’s total wheat area is estimated at 10.78Mha, down around 1.5pc from the March forecast of 10.94Mha and 1.1pc lower than the 2023 planted area of 10.9Mha. However, seedings at that level would still be well above the five-year average of 10.2Mha.

At 71pc of the nation’s total wheat area, spring wheat plantings came in at 7.66Mha, down 220,000ha or 2.8pc year on year. Conversely, the durum area of 2.58Mha is up more than 130,000ha, or 5.5pc, compared to last year. The expanse of winter wheat seeded in the fall and remaining viable after any winterkill is reported at just over 540,000ha, 5.8pc lower season on season.

Saskatchewan farmers reported planting 5.75Mha of wheat in 2024, unchanged compared to 2023. However, the 2.1pc fall in the spring wheat portion was offset by a 2.9pc rise in durum wheat to 2.06Mha. To the east in Alberta, farmers recorded a total wheat area of 3.16Mha, 1.6pc lower than in 2023. This was driven by a 4.9pc decrease in the spring wheat area to 2.63Mha, despite the 19.4pc increase in the durum footprint to almost 500,000ha. Manitoba producers reported a 1.4pc fall in the wheat area to 1.29Mha.

Barley area smallest in years, oats low

Barley is the second biggest cereal crop grown in Canada each season, and like wheat, farmers revised their seeded area lower than their March planting intentions. In the June survey, farmers reported a seeded area of 2.58Mha, the smallest crop in the past seven years. This is 10.5pc lower than the March estimate of 2.89Mha and 12.5pc lower than last year’s area of 2.96Mha.

Saskatchewan led the lower barley sowing, down 17.5pc year-on-year to 930,000ha. In Alberta, the planted area declined by 8.6pc to 1.42Mha, while the Manitoba crop fell 24.9pc to less than 130,000ha. A return to well above-average yields is now required to push 2024-25 production higher than last harvest.

Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of oats annually, but 2023-24 supplies are extremely tight leading into this year’s harvest after a 35.8pc fall in last year’s seeded area and the ongoing drought led to a 50pc fall in production. While the plantings have recovered by 14.9pc to 1.18Mha this year, they are still well below the 1.59Mha planted in the 2022-23 season. Above-average yields are required this season to replenish the supply pipeline and meet traditional domestic and export demand in 2024-25.

In Saskatchewan, the largest oat-producing province, the planted area has risen 22.3pc to 530,000ha this year. Producers in Alberta and Manitoba also reported an increase in their seeded area of 13pc and 11.3pc respectively.

Surge for lentils

On the pulse front, lentils are Canada’s biggest crop each season, and in 2024-25, the planted area is reported at 1.7Mha, up from the 1.54Mha indicated by growers in March. This is 14.8pc higher year on year after a 15.1pc decrease in 2023. Both major lentil-producing provinces noted a higher seeded area, with Saskatchewan increasing 14pc to 1.46Mha and Alberta rising 19.6pc to around 230,000ha.

With soil-moisture reserves restored, an aggressive planting campaign behind them, and excellent early vegetative growth, Canadian farmers desperately want a kind summer to bank this season’s winter and spring crop potential. However, yields remain sensitive to the warm and dry forecast, and ongoing rainfall is required to finish the crop.



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