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Published June 02, 2014, 09:39 AM

Western Canadian farmers struggle to plant wet fields

Farmers on the Canadian prairies, like their U.S. counterparts, are behind on planting this spring.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Farmers on the Canadian prairies, like their U.S. counterparts, are behind on planting this spring.

“Certainly there is some concern,” Bruce Burnett, weather and crop specialist with CWB Market Research Services, says in a weekly planting update. CWB was formerly known as the Canadian Wheat Board.

Some Canadian fields won’t be planted until the middle of June, and some might not get planted at all, he says

This already is one of the latest years on record. Fifty-nine percent of western Canada’s overall crop was in the ground by late May. Normally, planting is about 75 percent complete by then.

Rains in late May will further slow planting in some areas, he says.

Planting progress is better in some areas than others:

• Alberta farmers had about three-quarters of their crop in the ground by late May and were expected to be finished by the end of the month.

• In Saskatchewan, the biggest prairie producer, conditions are mixed. Planting in the western part of the province was nearly wrapped up by the end of May. Farmers in much of the eastern part of the province, however, will need to continue planting until mid-June.

• Manitoba farmers have the most serious and widespread planting delays. Only 39 percent of their overall crop was planted by late May. Heavy late-May rains in parts of the province are expected to stop planting until the middle of the first week of June.

Western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan are particularly worrisome.

“Those regions have very wet soil moisture conditions, and certainly the crops are not going to be seeded close to the normal times,” Burnett says. “And, with any additional rain we could see significant delays in those areas, as well.”

Weather during the next two weeks will be crucial, he says.

If the weather cooperates, “We should be able to get most of the crops planted in those areas,” he says.

But even if the weather is favorable, excess moisture in sloughs, potholes and close to drainage areas will prevent some land from being planted, he says.

The planting pace on the Canadian prairies was slow in 2013, too, but this year is even tardier, Burnett says.

He notes that moisture conditions in some areas are very good and crops will emerge rapidly after planting, despite cooler temperatures earlier in the spring.

Both sides of the border

Farmers in the Upper Midwest and on the Canadian prairies grow many of the same crops, so what happens in one country affects farmers on the other side of the border, as well.

Canola, spring wheat, flax and durum are among the crops grown in both countries.

Going into the spring, Canadian farmers were expected to plant more oilseeds and pulse crops.

The deadline for planting soybeans for crop insurance purposes is nearing in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and some acres originally slated for soybeans could go to another crop — “perhaps canola first, and then into maybe some of the shorter cycle oilseed crops or cereal crops,” Burnett says.

Environment Canada had predicted that a cool, wet spring was likely on the Canadian prairies.

Likewise, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicted, accurately, that the Upper Midwest probably would see a cool, wet spring.

Updated forecasts for both countries are expected to be available later in June.