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'A very difficult growing season': Wheat and canola production set to fall this year in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan farmers are hoping for a merely “decent” harvest this year, after tough spring weather held back growth and cut into expected yields for the province’s two biggest crops.
It could get worse. Many farmers haven’t begun combining yet, prompting worries that frost could wreak havoc before all the crop is in the bin.
Statistics Canada released its latest survey data on Wednesday. It showed that the province’s farmers are anticipating significant drops in production of both wheat and canola.
Farmers expect to produce 9.6 million tonnes of canola in Saskatchewan this year, down 12.4 per cent from 2018. Harvested acres are expected to fall 7.1 per cent. That’s part of a national trend the data agency connected to China’s ongoing blockade of Canadian canola exports.
Lane Stockbrugger, an Englefeld-area farmer and chair of SaskCanola, said he hasn’t changed his production at all in light of the trade crisis. But he admits the Chinese canola crackdown might have made a difference at the margin.
“In my opinion, it would be more the swing acres — changing out a quarter here or there,” he said. “And if you’ve got 23,000 canola farmers in Saskatchewan and half of those farmers change even a quarter or two quarters, that can add up.”
He thinks crop yields will be a bigger factor in holding back canola production. They’re forecast to drop 5.6 per cent compared to 2018, according to Statistics Canada.
“I still think we can have a decent crop for sure, but the yield is not going to be what we had in, say, 2017 or 2018,” he said.
Stockbrugger links that to a spring that brought little rain to parched soils. As of mid-June, cumulative precipitation fell below 40 per cent of the average across a wide swath of Saskatchewan.
Rainfall improved over the summer. That made farmers “much more optimistic,” according to Harvey Brooks, general manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission. But he said conditions are uneven and expectations remain low in parts of the province.
“It’s been a very difficult growing season for producers,” said Brooks. “We had extremely low levels of subsoil moisture going into planting. That was followed up by just extremely low levels of precipitation during the planting and our usual emergence period. So we get very, very uneven germination in our crop.”
Wheat yields are expected to fall 3.3 per cent in Saskatchewan relative to 2018, according to Statistics Canada. Farmers expect to harvest 12.7 million acres of wheat this year. Expected production is 14.1 million tonnes, 3.9 per cent less than last year’s harvest.
Harvest remains behind schedule in Saskatchewan. According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s latest crop report, just six per cent of the crop had been combined provincewide as of August 26. That’s up from two per cent the week before, but well below the five-year average of 16 per cent. Stockbrugger said he hasn’t yet harvested a single acre of his farm.
The northern regions are furthest behind, with just one per cent combined in the northeast and even less in the northwest.
Ministry crops extension specialist Cory Jacob said the delays come from late crop development, again connected to the dry spring conditions. Delayed development increases the risk that frost will strike down immature crops. Brooks said even a normal frost date could be “problematic.”
Farmers have already grappled with hail and strong winds that damaged crops this year. With all the troubles, Brooks is expecting many farmers to make use of crop insurance, which could face higher payouts.
“Undoubtedly, just because of the experience we’ve had through the spring,” he said. “We’ve had some crops that never did get adequate moisture to develop.”
Shawn Jacques, president and CEO of Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC), said it’s still too early to estimate what that will mean for the bottom line. But he agreed that 2019 has been “a challenging growing year for producers.”
“Certainly there are going to be pockets where the yield is impacted,” he said.
Crop insurance pays out when insured producers experience yield or quality losses owing to a range of natural events, such as hail, drought, frost or wind storms. It can be a major risk factor for the province’s budget outlook. Jacques said there could be “significant losses” if the crop is still immature when it freezes. The last time crops were struck by a major frost, in 2004, SCIC paid out “a fair number of claims.”
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