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Lack of Rain Threatens Canola Being Planted in Canadian Prairies

  • Dry conditions make it more difficult for canola to germinate
  • Swaths of prairie received less than 40 percent average rain

A farmer operates a tractor while plowing a field in Shelburne, Ontario, Canada, on June 3, 2017. 

Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

The drought that’s parching parts of Canada’s agricultural heartland has canola growers worried that their crops may not have enough water to grow.

Topsoil moisture conditions are declining in parts of the prairies just as farmers are trying to plant canola, an oilseed that’s typically sown at more shallow depths than other crops like wheat.

Canada is the world’s largest grower of canola, and while farmers can seed in dry conditions, they’ll still need moisture for the crops to grow, said Chuck Penner, the owner of LeftField Commodity Research in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Huge swaths of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan have received less than 40 percent average rainfall since April 1, according to the nation’s agriculture ministry. While some southern areas may receive as much as 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in the next two weeks, precipitation is expected to return to below-normal levels after that, said Joel Widenor, a meteorologist with Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

"A lot of canola was put into the ground dry and basically until it gets moisture it doesn’t germinate," Penner said by phone.

Canadian canola farmers were already poised to seed fewer acres in 2018 amid lingering concerns about dryness. Plantings will fall 7 percent to 21.4 million acres, the smallest area in two years, Statistics Canada said in an April report. Canola futures have gained 10 percent this year amid weather concerns and tensions between the U.S. and China over soybeans.

The lack of rain is causing trouble in parts of Manitoba where topsoil moisture is ”hurting pretty bad,” said Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, an industry group that represents farmers. In Saskatchewan, the majority of growing areas need rain to replenish topsoil as warm temperatures and strong winds continue to dry out fields, the province’s agriculture ministry said Thursday in a report.

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