Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seeding's slow start sends chill

Manitoba farms to grow more wheat, soybeans, less canola

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Mother Nature is really messing with Manitoba farmers this year as they try to finalize seeding plans.

Not only is the unusually late arrival of warm weather expected to delay the start of seeding by at least two weeks, farmers who live near a river face the possibility of even longer delays because of the likelihood of widespread flooding this spring in south-central and southwestern Manitoba.

"I would say both (the delayed spring and the flood threat) are weighing heavily on people's minds," Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney said Wednesday. "And it's hard to pick which is the bigger problem."

Chorney said most farmers in the Red River Valley still got their crops planted after the floods of 1997 and 1999. But those floods also started earlier, he added.

Also adding to farmers' worries this spring is a combination of higher farm-input costs and declining prices for some grains, said Manitoba Canola Growers Association president Ed Remple.

Remple and Chorney said while concern is mounting, no one is panicking yet.

"It's way too soon to say we are not going to get our crops in," Chorney said, noting if forecasters are right and the temperature climbs into the mid-teens this weekend, a lot of snow could disappear from fields.

"We could still be going by May 10th to 15th, and that would be fine for most people."

"As farmers, we know there is nothing we can do about it (the weather), so we're still calm," Remple added. "But to the extent that we can, we are adjusting our strategy in terms of the type of crop and the varieties within those crops that we'll plant."

The two farm leaders commented after Statistics Canada released the results of its spring survey on planting intentions.

This year, a total of 13,805 farmers, including 1,494 in Manitoba, were surveyed between March 25 and April 3.

The agency said Manitoba farmers are expected to plant more wheat, soybeans and corn, and less of pretty well everything else, including canola.

It said the survey results suggest there will be a double-digit increase in wheat and soybean acreage, and a record number of acres seeded in grain corn.

Canola acreage, on the other hand, is expected to be down nearly 16 per cent, or 600,000 acres, from last year's record high of 3.6 million acres. The five-year average for canola in Manitoba is 3.2 million acres.

And the seeded areas for flaxseed, barley, sunflower seed and coloured beans are expected to decline by between five per cent and 40 per cent, depending on the crop, the agency added.

Chorney said the survey results are in line with what KAP members told him during the winter.

But he and Remple noted there could be some last-minute changes to seeding plans if farmers don't get onto their fields by the second or third week of May.

Some may opt to plant less corn and soybeans, which need longer growing seasons, and more cereal crops such as wheat and canola.

"I'm seeing a little nervousness around new growers of grain corn and people who really bellied up to the bar with soybean acreage," Remple said.

"So I wouldn't be surprised to see some beans come out... and more canola go in."

However, Chorney said farmers have until the end of May to get their soybean, grain and corn crops planted and still qualify for full crop insurance. So there's still a chance they won't have to change plans.

He and Remple said wholesale changes to seeding plans are unlikely because farmers usually have to order seed well in advance and may not be able to get the seed they want if they make last-minute changes. The need to rotate crops must also be taken into account.

"We have maybe 10 to 20 per cent that are swing acres," Remple said. "We have less room (for last-minute changes) than most people think."

Statistics Canada said the planting intentions here largely mirror those at the national level.

It said Canadian farmers are also expected to plant more wheat, corn and soybeans this year, and less canola, barley and lentils.

However, it also noted weather conditions may force farmers to modify plans prior to planting.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 B3


Updated on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 7:21 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds fact box

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