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Agriculture insiders say bumper crop possible as Prairie farmers harvest crop

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REGINA - Harvest is well underway across the Prairies and while farmers often say that they don't count the crop until it's all in the bin, there's already talk of a record year.

"It is a bumper crop, there's just no two ways about it," said Neil Townsend, director of market research with the CWB, formally known as the Canadian Wheat Board. "This is a level that we haven't seen before. I mean it's exceptional.

"We had pretty good weather, but the technology is also there to give people more yield, right. And you know we're seeing that if the weather co-operates, the ability of the plant nowadays is to just give yields that you didn't get before."

Townsend said yield records could be broken for wheat, canola and durum.

"And not just like a record, but in some cases it's going to break the record by over 10 per cent," he said.

For example, he notes, the highest all-wheat yield in the last 10 years was about 42 bushels per acre and this year it is expected to be about 49 bushels per acre.

Statistics Canada said in its July crop production report that Canadian farmers anticipate record canola production this year, as well as increases in wheat, barley and oats. That report said total wheat production in Canada is expected to reach 30.6 million tonnes this year — up 12.9 per cent from 2012. Statistics Canada will release final production estimates for 2013 on Dec. 4.

The latest America projection for Canadian wheat is even higher.

In its September world agricultural supply and demand estimate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pegged Canadian wheat production at 31.5 million tonnes — up two million tonnes from its August estimate.

Townsend said estimates are that the six major grains in Western Canada — wheat, oats, barley, rye, flax and canola — could produce 61.4 million tonnes this year. The previous nine year average was about 47.7 million tonnes, he said.

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said rain and heat both came at the right times in most areas. He says some places in southern Alberta that dryland farm, without irrigation, got extra moisture and "extremely good yields."

"Some of them have never seen crops like that," said Jacobson.

The crops look good further north too, near Camrose, he said.

"They were catching all the rains and things like this and it was pretty good for them too. So the province overall is probably going to have a better than average yield, or quite a bit better than average yield," said Jacobson, who farms in Enchant, north of Lethbridge.

There are downsides, however.

Higher yields can mean lower protein levels in crops, a shortage of storage and lower prices because there's more supply to meet demand.

"The biggest problem is just that the world is having, in general, the same phenomena happen. We're having a world record wheat crop — over 710 million tonnes," said Townsend.

"What's happening is we're producing a huge crop into a bear market and the market has trended down."

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