Northern hemisphere makes wheat faster than southerners are losing it

Exportable surpluses likely in wake of bumper Canadian winter crop

Grains
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Canadian farmers are on course for a bumper winter crop, potentially adding to exportable surpluses.

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Latest production estimates for Canada indicate wheat, barley, oat and corn crops will be higher this year and canola and soybean output will fall.

Latest production estimates for Canada indicate wheat, barley, oat and corn crops will be higher this year and canola and soybean output will fall.

Canadian farmers are on track to bag their second-biggest wheat crop on record, according to Statistics Canada - which released its first 2020-21 production estimates last week.

Output of wheat, barley, oats and corn are all predicted to increase this year compared to last year, but canola and soybean output is estimated to fall.

Canada's national statistics agency compiled the production data using yield models based on satellite imagery, instead of the standard grower survey.

Significant advances in the accuracy of satellite modelling made this possible, but it was also adopted to reduce the stress on farmers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency called Canada's total wheat production at 35.74 million tonnes, which would be an increase of 10.5 per cent on last season and second only to the 37.59 million tonne crop harvested in 2013.

This rise is a result of a higher harvested area - up 2.3 per cent to 9.87 million hectares - and higher forecast yields - up 8 per cent to 3.65 tonnes per hectare - compared to 2019.

Barley production was pegged at 10.55 million tonnes, which would be a year-on-year increase of 1.6 per cent but well below the country's record barley harvest of 15.56 million tonnes in 1996.

The growth was driven by a 1.3 per cent increase in yield to 3.86t/ha from a harvested area of 2.75 million hectares, which is 0.3 per cent higher than in 2019.

An increase of 6.3 per cent in harvested area was the primary driver behind the projected growth in oat production of 6.1 per cent to 4.5 million tonnes. This season's yield projection is 0.2 per cent lower at 3.4t/ha.

Canada is the world's biggest canola producer and the oilseed is the country's second-largest annual crop.

Its national production is expected to drop by 0.4 per cent to 19.4 million tonnes this harvest compared to the 2019-20 crop - which was revised upwards from 18.65 million tonnes to 19.48 million tonnes.

This year's Canadian canola yield is forecast to increase by 1.2 per cent to 2.33t/ha, but this is more than offset by a harvested area that is expected to fall by 1.6 per cent to 8.34 million hectares.

The two biggest pulse crops in Canada are field peas and lentils. The Statistics Canada yield models have predicted production of these crops will be 17.9 per cent and 25.1 per cent higher at 5 million tonnes and 2.81 million tonnes respectively.

In the row crop space, the Statistics Canada report is projecting an increase in corn output, but the soybean crop is tipped to edge lower.

The corn crop was pegged at 13.93 million tonnes - which is 3.9 per cent higher than in 2019 - and soybean production was estimated at 5.96 million tonnes, which is 1.4 per cent lower than the previous season.

Canadian grain exports may have started slowly, but finished the 2019-20 marketing year with a bang.

This resulted in a reduction in wheat, canola, field peas and lentil stocks as at July 31 compared to the same time last year. Barley and oat stocks bucked the trend, finishing higher year-on-year.

Disruptions in the rail network slowed the movement of grain to Canadian ports early in the marketing year, delaying the export program.

But reduced demand for petroleum and consumer goods as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the second half of the season freed rail capacity to move more grain to port, which resulted in record grain shipments in late spring and during the summer period.

The commercial grain handling system in western Canada is very different to that in Australia. It simply does not have the capacity to store the entire crop at harvest.

More than 70 per cent of the annual Canadian harvest is stored on-farm, predominantly in steel upright silos. Very low ambient temperatures eliminate grain storage pests during winter.

The capacity of the on-farm storage system is more than 75 million tonnes - or 90 to 120 per cent of annual production, depending on the crop size.

In contrast, on-farm storage capacity in Australia is about 15 million tonnes.

Canadian supply chains generally operate a 'pull' delivery system, where grain is moved from farm to a receival site and then to a port 'just-in-time' for the arrival and loading of export vessels.

Australia's export supply chain mainly functions as a 'push' system, where grain is moved from farm to upcountry or port storage facilities immediately after harvest and stored in readiness for the future arrival of export vessels.

About 75 per cent of grain exported from Canada travels long distances by rail from the prairie provinces to the two main west coast ports, and journeys of 1300 to 1800 kilometres are common.

Canada's oil and mineral fields are close to agricultural areas, so there is competition for rail network capacity.

In comparison, grain destined for export from Australia travels relatively short distances to port and journeys of more than 400km are uncommon.

The Canadian harvest has started, but is in its infancy. Canola swathing is underway in many regions, but not much harvesting has occurred as yet.

The jury is out on how badly crop yields were trimmed by unseasonal heat and a lack of finishing moisture in some districts through August.

Weather forecasters say Canadian farmers are in for a more benign autumn than last year, which should help calm the harvest nerves.

The potential formation of a weak La Nina weather system should prevent a repeat of last year's wet harvest nightmare for the bulk of the winter crop area.

With higher production comes a bigger exportable surplus.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated Canadian wheat exports at 24.5 million tonnes, based on its crop estimate of 34 million tonnes.

That is much lower than the Statistics Canada figure - and many on the ground in the prairie areas are calling wheat production even higher at more than 37 million tonnes.

Add to that the forecasts for the Russian wheat crop, which have suddenly gone from maybe 78 million tonnes to more than 82 million tonnes - and is getting bigger.

The northern hemisphere is making wheat faster than the southern hemisphere is losing it at present, and this only adds to exportable surpluses and competition for new crop Australian exporters.

The story Northern hemisphere makes wheat faster than southerners are losing it first appeared on The Land.

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