Weather may put wrench in record-low summerfallow intentions

CNS Canada –– The amount of land left to summerfallow in Western Canada could hit a new record low in 2017, according to the latest Statistics Canada data, as the practice falls more and more out of favour.

However, weather conditions still have the final say, with ‘unintended’ summerfallow a distinct possibility in 2017.

Heading into the 2017 growing season, Canadian farmers say they will leave only 1.765 million acres unseeded as summerfallow, according to Statistics Canada.

That marks a new record low for the practice, compared against the 1980s when summerfallow consistently topped 20 million acres, according to Statistics Canada data.

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Since the mid-1980s, when wheat area still averaged above 30 million acres, average wheat plantings in Canada have come down by about 10 million acres. Meanwhile, canola and pulse crops have all seen considerable growth.

While diversifying out of wheat played a part in the move away from summerfallow, the bigger adjustment was in the move to zero-till practices and nitrogen fertilizer, according to industry participants.

However, the practice is not yet going away completely. While it is becoming a rarity, there are still some producers who have crunched the numbers and find they still get better returns overall when they intentionally chem-fallow their fields, said Kevin Hursh of Hursh Consulting and Communications in Saskatoon.

Adverse weather conditions this spring may see actual summerfallow end up above the early projections, he added.

“This year you might see a bunch of unintentional summerfallow if the weather keeps messing around and people are unable to seed, especially in those areas where they have combining to finish up,” he said.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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