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Time running out for Prairie farmers

Jill Colton, staff writer

June 18, 2010 — Crop insurance deadlines are approaching and the heavy rain across the Prairies is making things look grim. In the short video to the left, Bruce Burnett, Director of Weather and Marketing Analyst at the Canadian Wheat Board explains how time is of the essence.

Crops ruined because of heavy rain in Canora, SK
Crops ruined because of heavy rain in Canora, SK

Wheat and canola crops are in big trouble. With the recent onslaught of spring rains, between 8 to 12 million acres will be left unseeded across the three Prairie provinces this year, spelling disaster for farmers.

Usually, seeding has been completed by this time of year and now it's a race against time as crop insurance deadlines are approaching this Sunday. It's not looking too promising though. The latest low pressure system has brought upwards of 100mm of rain to some places. That's typically the amount of rain that falls in the entire month of June.

Bruce Burnett, Director of Weather and Marketing Analyst at the Canadian Wheat Board says that every year approximately 60 million acres of crop gets seeded, and now, almost one sixth of the production has been ruined by heavy rains.

To put the devastation in perspective he says, “In most years they lose, at most, 2 to 3 percent of that entire area to excess moisture...this is an exceptionally large area that won't be producing crops this year.”

Soppy, wet fields - Canora, SK
Soppy, wet fields - Canora, SK

This wreaks havoc on farmers in particular. “The primary impact is financial. Grain farmers gain their income from producing grain, and if you have a year where you only produce a small portion, this presents a very large economic setback.”

But that's not all -- “For farmers that have livestock, the shortfall will probably mean localized shortages especially operations that require grain to feed animals,” explains Burnett. Farmers in this situation will take a double hit because they'll have to buy grain from an outside source.

He says it's too difficult to estimate the financial losses at this time, but because the crop production in western Canada values in the billions, he believes “...it's not a stretch to say there's been a major setback to the agricultural economy in western Canada.”

In contrast, some areas have benefited somewhat from the copious amounts of rain. “Earlier on in the season, there was a concern for a drought in western Saskatchewan that stretched into northern and central Alberta. Those areas have now received beneficial rainfall and farmers have been able to plant their crops because the soil wasn't dry any longer for the seeding season.”

However, Burnett does go on to say that regardless of this, “...the negative impacts have largely outweighed the positive impacts that we've seen thus far.”

With files from Andrea Stockton.

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