Western Canada could see a lot of unseeded cropland again next year because of an excessively wet summer and a possible snowy winter.
Up to five million acres in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta could go unseeded in 2011 because of wet conditions, said Bruce Burnett, Canadian Wheat Board director of weather and market analysis.
It’s difficult to predict at this stage but anywhere between two million and five million unseeded acres is “not an unreasonable figure,” Burnett said during a Nov. 23 Keystone Agricultural Producers district meeting.
An estimated 10 million acres went unplanted across the Prairies this year because of abnormally heavy spring rains and overland flooding. Western Canada normally has 60 million acres of seeded cropland.
Up to 700 mm of rain fell in parts of Saskatchewan during the growing season. Weather analysts say 2010 was the wettest year for the region in at least 50 years, and maybe more than a century.
According to Statistics Canada, wheat production, including durum, was down four million tonnes from 2009 because a lot of land was too wet to seed.
Things likely won’t be as bad next year. But the after-effects of flooding will linger because the soil is saturated heading into freeze-up, Burnett said.
“Even if we don’t see general rains like we had last year, if we get those pockets of too much moisture, either this winter or into the spring, then those areas are going to have a very tough time planting and you’ll probably see a lot of abandonment or non-planted acres again,” he said.
“We’re really setting ourselves up for that problem.”
Chances of production rebounding to pre-2010 levels this coming year are “probably questionable.”
Burnett said farmers could expect a lot of snow this winter because of a La Nińa weather phenomenon. La Nińa winters tend to be earlier, colder and with more snow than usual, especially in the northern and eastern Prairies. So far, La Nińa is running true to form.
The prospect of heavy snowfall on top of already-saturated soil raises the prospect of overland spring flooding along the Red River and other rivers. Burnett said wet conditions extend into southern Minnesota, where the Red rises. U.S. weather analysts report near-record moisture values in the Red River basin.
“The rivers are high and with any kind of normal snow pack we’re going to have flooding.”
Ironically, the risk of limited planting because of wet conditions comes at a time when market prices are good.
Burnett said wheat prices are at levels not seen since the 2008 drop-off and about halfway back to peaks seen in early 2008.
He told the KAP meeting strong prices will likely continue into the new year because of a sharp drawdown in world wheat ending stocks.
A summer drought in Russia caused that country to ban wheat exports, helping to firm market prices.
But a fragile international economy will have a big influence on markets in 2011. The market will also take direction from China and any changes in that country’s economic and import policies, Burnett said. [email protected]
– BRUCE BURNETT, CWB