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Manitoba sees record crops

Biggest yields in Canadian history: StatsCan

Kent Oatway -- sitting on a pile of corn -- is one farmer who's been affected by the crop congestion problems.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Kent Oatway -- sitting on a pile of corn -- is one farmer who's been affected by the crop congestion problems.

What a crop!

Winter wheat lays under a giant tarp late last month.

Enlarge Image

Winter wheat lays under a giant tarp late last month.

Statistics Canada has made it official -- it's the biggest crop in Canadian history. Easily.

Now the question becomes how to move that grain to market.

Farmers smashed records in wheat, canola, corn and soybeans, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday in its annual crop survey.

For example, farmers broke the 22-year record in wheat by a staggering five million tonnes -- 37.5 million tonnes versus the previous record of 32.1 million set in 1991. It's almost like knocking a second off the world record in the 100-metre sprint.

With canola, producers harvested 18 million tonnes. The previous record was 14.6 million tonnes.

Manitoba followed the trend. Producers harvested record soybean and corn crops, two crops nearly invisible in Manitoba a decade ago, according to Statistics Canada's annual survey.

They also posted record yields in two of the Prairie's oldest crops, spring wheat and barley. Canola also enjoyed record average yields.

While everyone knew a gargantuan crop was coming, the figures are significantly higher than Statistics Canada's previous estimates. Its report released Wednesday was 4.5 million tonnes higher for wheat and two million tonnes more for canola. Its previous estimate was from a survey last August before farmers completed harvesting.

The breadth of those revisions caught even grain traders by surprise. "Everyone in the trade was expecting big numbers. These numbers are even bigger than the trade was expecting," said Mike Jubinville, president of Pro Farmer Canada, a grain-market analysis firm in Winnipeg.

That's fantastic news. But now the problem becomes what to do with all that crop. Grain companies are already telling farmers they are making canola and hard red spring wheat their priorities and won't be buying lesser-grown varieties such as soft white wheat because they can't move it.

"You're hearing the frustration starting to really boil in farm country about our inability to move this crop, and it's only going to get worse," said Jubinville. "We have to take a step back and realize how big this crop is. We don't have the ability to move 75 to 80 million tonnes of grain in one year."

Country elevators are already plugged, and farmers and elevators are having to store grain outdoors. "It's just a thin garden hose that carries grain out to the West Coast. This crop exceeds that," said Jubinville. "With 100 per cent efficiency, we can't move it. We're going to be carrying grain into next year (the next crop year starts Aug. 1, 2014) because we just can't physically move it."

The big crop and congestion problems are also causing prices to drop. However, many farmers were able to forward-price at more profitable levels in August for at least a portion of their crop.

Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba's general farm organization, has already asked the federal government to provide more oversight to get grain moving as fast as possible. KAP blames the country's two national railways for not allocating enough rail cars.

Jubinville said there are other capacity problems, as well, when a crop's this big. Port terminals are one example. "(Grain terminals) are booked solid until March. In other words, any grain sold today won't be able to move until spring of next year," said Jubinville.

New plant breeding varieties, plus optimum growing conditions, explain the surge in soybeans and corn in Manitoba.

In Manitoba, farmers produced 1.1 million tonnes of soybeans, up from 770,200 in 2012, which was the previous record. Yields were up 6.2 per cent to 37.6 bushels per acre.

Farmers harvested 1.2 million tonnes of corn, thanks to seeding 375,000 acres, up almost 30 per cent from 2012.

"I talked to a corn producer in the Dugald area and he said he got fantastic grain corn crops now two years in a row," said Doug Chorney, KAP president. "This is going to make it more popular to grow. A lot of producers are very excited."

Spring wheat reached 4.4 million tonnes, thanks to a record average yield of 56.2 bushels to the acre.

Barley production rose for the second straight year to 705,400 tonnes, thanks to record yields of 77.1 bushels per acre (versus 56.2 bushels per acre in 2012).

"I've heard of spring wheat yields of 80 bushels an acre. I had hail damage and still got 71 bushels an acre," said Chorney. "Every growing season, you hope everything clicks and it results in a fantastic yield. This is one of those years."

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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