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Published October 17, 2011, 05:25 AM

Canadian harvest cruises

An unusually warm, dry fall has made this one of the smoothest harvests in recent memory for Canadian farmers.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

An unusually warm, dry fall has made this one of the smoothest harvests in recent memory for Canadian farmers.

“We haven’t had a harvest like this in quite some time,” says Bill Toews, who raises wheat, soybeans, flax and canola near Kane, Manitoba, a few miles north of the North Dakota border

As James Loewen, an Altona, Manitoba-based grain manager for Bunge puts it, “You couldn’t ask for nicer weather.”

The one glitch was a mid-September killing frost. Without it, some late-planted crops, particularly corn, would have had a little more time to develop, Loewen says.

Virtually all the cereal grains and canola on Canada’s prairie provinces were expected to be harvested by the middle of October, with the soybean harvest nearing the finish line and the corn harvest well under way, he says.

Wet conditions this spring delayed planting — a few Canadian farmers even used helicopters to plant some fields — so a wet fall would have been more troublesome than usual.

But excellent harvest weather allowed farmers to make up for lost time — and more.

Brisk harvest pace

By early October, the wheat harvest on the Canadian prairies was 92 percent complete, compared with the normal rate of 88 percent, according to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Because the Canadian prairies are so big, the overall statistics mask significant differences in how much of crop is harvested by individual farmers.

Toews, like many Canadian farmers, is done with harvest.

In contrast, Henry Vos, who raises wheat, canola and barley in Fairview, Alberta, in the Peace River Country in northwestern Alberta, still had roughly two-thirds of his crop to harvest at the end of the first week of October.

He says he’s hoping to finish harvest by Halloween, when snow will become an increasing danger.

Yields vary greatly but, on balance, are expected to be only average, Loewen says.

Toews says the summer was too dry and that yields weren’t good.

Vos says his crops should yield relatively well, a huge improvement from a year when very dry conditions led to very low yields, he says.

Production will rise

Even so, wheat, barley and canola production all are expected to rise this year from a year ago, when an extremely wet spring cut into planted acres, according to Statistics Canada.

Production of canola is expected to rise 1.1 percent from a year ago.

Production of all wheat is expected to rise 3 percent, thanks primarily to an estimated 30 percent increase in durum production.

Barley production was estimated to rise 3.9 percent because of a 5.6 percent increase in yields.

Canada is the world’s leading exporter of spring wheat, durum, canola and malting barley — all of which are prominent crops on the Northern Plains of the United States. So what happens in Canada can impact U.S. prices for those crops.

Statistics Canada surveyed 14,000 farmers from Sept. 1 to 9 on their estimated area, yield and production of grains, oilseeds and special crops.

Final production estimates will be released Dec. 6.