Threat of crop failure looms over Canada Prairies : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Threat of crop failure looms over Canada Prairies Updated: Tue, Jul 10 6:57 PM EDT

By Kanina Holmes WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - When Brian Hunt surveys his patch of southern Alberta on the Canadian Prairies, he sees field after field of crops tinged blue and green.

Hunt, a provincial crop rotation specialist, said Tuesday that this is a clear sign that something is agriculturally amiss.

"A bluish-green crop indicates that it is under severe stress. Just about all the crops are looking like that," Hunt told Reuters.

"In the most severe situations, you'll see the lower leaves on the cereals are actually dying back and turning brown...which is the plant telling itself we don't have enough moisture to keep these leaves alive so we'll sacrifice them," said Hunt.

Crop and weather experts say that swathes of southern Alberta and central and southwestern Saskatchewan are teetering on the edge of some of the most parched conditions in decades.

The southern Alberta city of Lethbridge has received just 55 percent of its normal precipitation levels over the past three months. The first six months of this year were the driest ever recorded in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, meteorologists said.

Many crops are described as thin, short and patchy. Others have matured too quickly in the intense heat.

Farmers look on helplessly as temperatures between 31 and 34 degrees Celsius (88 to 93 Fahrenheit) and little or no rain diminishes the chances that their canola, barley and wheat will properly develop.

"In a word, 'desperate' is getting real close," said Hunt who is based in Taber, a small farming center between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat in southeastern Alberta and considered one of the driest areas of the province.


While traditionally a major canola growing area, agronomists say that this year many producers in southern Alberta did not plant the oilseed because of low prices, high input costs and concerns about the prospect of a drought earlier this spring.

Dry conditions have already prompted several producers to reseed. Many have reportedly switched to more drought-tolerant cereal crops such as durum, hard red spring wheat and barley.

But some believe that, even even for those crops, it may soon be too late.

"Without any rain in the next 10 days, there probably won't be crops, any crops," said Scott Meers, a cereal and oilseed specialist with Alberta's Agriculture Ministry.

Fears of a drought and a Statistics Canada estimate of an 18 percent reduction in seeded canola acreage, have helped boost cash grain prices, and canola, flax, barley and feed wheat futures at the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange have soared.

From June 29, a time when Prairie crop reports were increasingly focusing on arid conditions, to Tuesday's close, July canola futures climbed from C$316.80 to C$344.50. Since early February, when the July contract closed as low as C$263.70, values have jumped by 23 percent.

"I never thought we'd see canola trading at these levels," a floor dealer said.

But Alberta agriculture officials said Tuesday that while the 2001-02 crop will, at best, produce average yields, there are parts of the province, namely in central Alberta and further north in the Peace River region, where some rain has fallen and all is not lost.

"I've seen those (market) rallies and I've wondered what the heck is going on because, really ,in central Alberta here, things don't look too bad to me," said Jim Broatch, a crop specialist who works in Stettler, Alberta.

And when it comes to canola, experts say the oilseed, a Canadian variant of rapeseed, can be surprisingly resilient.

"Canola is funny. It's still flowering. If it picks up rain it can compensate quickly," said Meers who works with farmers in Strathmore, Alberta, east of Calgary.

"It's not totally over, but certainly we're headed that way."|ss=drought;

-- Martin Thompson (, July 11, 2001

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