Dryness, which sent Canada’s grains and oilseeds harvest plunging by 29% last year, is proving “persistent” in some parts of the Prairies, undermining prospects for a rebuild in wheat stocks from the lowest level in 83 years.

Canada’s output of the major grains should, to judge from historical trends, rebound by 30% from last year, backed by a recovery in yields from 2021’s drought-tested levels.

However, Alberta and western areas of top growing state Saskatchewan face “persistent drought conditions”, that are slowing sowings, the US Department of Agriculture’s Ottawa bureau said.

“Many farmers are behind in their planting schedule, due to unfavourable planting condition,” the bureau said, adding that its forecasts for Canada’s 2022 wheat harvest “may need to be adjusted in the absence of significant spring rain in major wheat-growing areas in the Prairies”.

The bureau currently forecasts the country’s wheat production this year at 31.58m tonnes, up nearly 10.0m tonnes year on year, although remaining behind 2020’s strong result of 35.18m tonnes.

Last year’s drought-hit harvest is expected to leave stocks at the close of 2021-22, in July in Canada, at 3.0m tonnes, the lowest since 1938, it said.

‘Signs of drought’

The drought caution echoes a warning last week from officials at Statistics Canada that “while soil moisture conditions are estimated to have returned to normal in some parts of western Canada, other areas such as southern Alberta and south western Saskatchewan remain drier than normal”.

Some parts of Alberta have soil moisture levels only about one-half of the “normal” level, StatsCan data showed.

Canada’s farm ministry warned two weeks ago that “dry conditions remain… particularly in the southern and central portions of the western Prairies where timely precipitation this spring and throughout the growing season will be needed to achieve trend yields.

“The weather across the Prairies, which is showing signs of drought, especially in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, will be monitored closely as adverse weather could negatively affect yields.”

Wheat vs canola

The USDA bureau’s forecast was based on an estimate of an increase in Canada’s wheat area, on a harvested basis, of more than 600,000 hectares this year, to 9.87m hectares.

“Planting decisions will be guided by canola disease pressures, dry planting conditions, high input prices, and high wheat prices, all of which favour increased wheat planting relative alternative crops such as canola,” the bureau said.

The bureau has forecast Canda’s canola area falling by 590,0000 hectares year on year to 8.42m hectares, also on a harvested basis.

Statistics Canada data last week, based on a farmer survey in March, forecast wheat area this year – on a planted basis – by 1.67m acres, or 7.2%, to a nine-year high of 25.03m acres (10.13m hectares).

Area seeded with durum wheat was see expanding particularly fast, by 12.5% to 6.22m hectares, a 22-year high.

Canola seedings were pegged at 20.90m acres (8.46m hectares), a dip of 7.0% year on year.