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'Sea of yellow' rising on the prairies

John Walter 03/13/2012 @ 2:05pm

Will a “sea of yellow" take over a larger share of crop rotations on the North American prairies this year? In Canada, talk this spring has been of the potential for canola to top wheat as the western provinces’ favorite crop.

“Industry participants, based on conditions heading into the spring, are estimating farmers will seed anywhere from 19.0 million to 22.0 million acres of canola, establishing a new record,” Dow Jones newswires reported. That compares with last year’s record of 18.862 acres in the country.

In North Dakota, canola acres are expected to climb this year to 1.1-1.25 million acres, according to Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Assocation. That’s up from the approximately 850,000 acres grown in the state in 2011.

Canola’s expansion is being driven by historic market signals, Coleman says.

“Prices for oilseeds in general are a little bit stronger in relation to grains compared to historic norms,” Coleman told Agriculture.com. “This reflects the strong demand situation for oilseeds. Canola is at a strong price level compared to past springs."

Ray Grabanski, president of Progressive Ag, a marketing advisory service based in Fargo, North Dakota, believes the increased acres of canola will be an important factor in the markets this year.

“Growers indicate they will expand canola at the expense of durum and HRS wheat acres,” he says. “It will be significant, probably quite a bit more than the trade is anticipating.”


The biggest challenge to northern plains growers could be the weather. The Canadian prairies are forecast to be extremely dry this spring. And North Dakota is experiencing a “moderate drought,” Coleman said.

“We’ll need some spring moisture to get crops progressing well," he said. "This is quite a change from last season when excess spring moisture was the main problem."

Another possible challenge to Canadian producers who are shifting to continuous cropping of canola is the presence of the disease clubroot, which can reduce the quality of production.

At least one farmer doubts that as many producers will make as big of a shift to canola this year as some analysts have predicted.

“As a northern Alberta producer, I really don't put much stock into the idea that very many guys are considering seeding all of their acres to canola,” said a farmer commenting on an Agriculture.com article on the topic.

“Oat acres are certainly going to drop as its currently not price competitive with the other major crops, I think wheat acres will drop a little due to the uncertainty with the demise of the wheat board and the lack of clarity in contracts for wheat in the coming crop year, and pea acres will climb as will canola,” said “Anthony VR.”

He continued, “That said I don't know a single producer in my area, myself included, who is considering 100% canola; rotations here have already been pushed to the limit and many producers have experienced canola on canola crop wrecks in the past.”

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