Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crop-killing frost hits Western Canada's wheat and canola fields

The Vancouver Sun reported frost reached major wheat and canola growing areas of the Western Canadian province of Alberta Friday, likely killing immature crops and lowering their quality, but it spared most of the country’s biggest crop areas.

The killing frost, which Environment Canada said looks to repeat in a broader area on Friday night, threatens to exacerbate market jitters about global wheat supplies due mainly to severe drought in the Black Sea region.

Even though the frost was widely expected, it pushed up ICE Canada nearby canola futures1.4 percent early on Friday, with Chicago wheat, soybean and oat futures following up 1.7, 2.2 and 3.4 percent respectively.

Killing frosts reached north-central areas of Alberta that usually produce one-sixth of Canada’s canola and almost one-fifth of its spring wheat. But while the frost devastated some crops, many of those that absorbed the coldest temperatures were already mature enough to withstand much of the damage, said Stuart McMillan, crop and weather analyst at the Canadian Wheat Board, which markets Western Canada’s wheat and barley.

“I don’t want to sound the alarm bells to all the customers yet because there’s still going to be reasonable number of (high-quality) red springs and durum produced here,” he said.

Canola crops in the worst-hit regions are also less vulnerable to damage, said Murray Hartman, oilseed specialist for the Alberta government.

“It would be significant damage but it’s not extensive.”

Frost kills plants when temperatures fall below minus 2.2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures reached several degrees lower than that level in many parts of Alberta for several hours.

The killing frost is right on time for Western Canada, however excessive rain this summer delayed crop growth and held the harvest to its slowest pace in six years, leaving immature plants vulnerable to frost damage.

Canada is the top exporter of spring wheat, canola and rapeseed and a key shipper of oats.

Vulnerable areas of southern Alberta and most of neighboring Saskatchewan missed the killing frost, said Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Russo.

In Saskatchewan, the top crop-growing province, only Kindersley reached minus 2.2 degrees Celsius or lower. The province of Manitoba did not receive significant frost.

The reprieve in those areas is only temporary, Russo said. Most southern areas of Saskatchewan will likely see temperatures of minus 2 to minus 5 degrees Celsius on Friday night, ending the growing season there. The frost will also likely move into southwestern Manitoba, Russo said.

Canada’s lower-quality crops should support prices of top-quality spring wheat, used in baking, and canola, which is mainly crushed for its edible oil, said Brian Wittal, owner of Pro Com Marketing in southern Alberta.

“The asking price is certainly going to be higher because we’re just not going to have it.”

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