May 12, 2015 - Western Canada's farmers are sowing crops at the speediest pace in about 10 years, which bodes well for an early, large harvest this autumn.
More than half of the region's farmland is planted, compared with the usual pace of one-quarter, due to dry conditions, said Bruce Burnett, weather and crop specialist at grain marketer CWB. The last time planting was done at a similar pace was in 2005, he said.
Early seeded crops such as peas, lentils and durum are the most advanced, but spring wheat and canola plantings are also ahead of schedule in the world's No. 2 wheat exporter, Burnett said.
"It certainly has increased the probabilities of us having an early harvest, which after the quality issues last year are on everybody's mind," Burnett said. A year ago, cool, wet weather in the last week of August damaged durum wheat.
Early planting, however, poses risks.
Recent cold temperatures may damage crops that have emerged from the soil, especially canola, Burnett said.
In the biggest crop-producing province, Saskatchewan, farmers have likely planted 25 to 30 per cent of their crops, ahead of the five-year average of six per cent, said Daphne Cruise, cropping management specialist at the provincial government. Last week, 14 per cent was complete.
In southern Manitoba and southern Alberta, many farmers have completed about three-quarters of planting and are likely to finish by the weekend, said Alyssa Mistelbacher, market analyst at FarmLink Marketing Solutions. Parts of eastern Saskatchewan have been too wet to plant, she said.
Jeff Elliott, who farms with his father near Grandview, Manitoba, had seeded about three-quarters of his land with wheat, canola and soybeans by the beginning of this week.
The trouble-free spring is a relief to farmers in Elliott's area who struggled to plant in boggy conditions last year.
"It's a lot easier to be optimistic this year," he said. "I think the stress level of farmers is a lot less than it's been for a few years."
Farmers across most of the Prairies should make good planting progress during the next week to 10 days, said Andrew Owen, meteorologist at U.S.-based World Weather Inc.
The main risk is possible freezing conditions in late May, Owen said. June looks warmer and dry for most of the Prairies, which could raise concerns for areas that need moisture to advance crop growth in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, he said.