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Analysts: Crop acres still up in air for 2009

(Resource News International) — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s initial estimates of what farmers will plant in 2009, released Monday, are a good “starting point,” according to industry analysts who still question a few of the department’s forecasts.

“I talk to farmers all the time, and they don’t know what they’re going to plant,” said Mike Jubinville of ProFarmer Canada in Winnipeg. “It’s an initial guess… but these numbers will be subject to a lot of potential changes in the next few months.”

AAFC forecast canola area in 2009 at a record 16.803 million acres, which would be up from the already record-sized plantings of 16.159 million acres in 2008. Jubinville agreed canola acres would hold up on the year, due to the favourable returns per acre for the crop.

However, Jubinville was less sure about AAFC’s projections for barley acres. The department forecasts a slight increase in barley seedings to 9.674 million acres, up from 9.357 million in 2008.

“The economics, at least as they pertain to feed barley, make it one of the worst crops to grow,” said Jubinville. While malting barley does pencil out well, only a small portion of the country’s barley crop is ever selected as malt, he added.

“The returns per acre favour canola, spring wheat, and then barley,” said a second industry analyst. He didn’t expect to see any increase in barley acres and also disagreed with AAFC on durum.

While AAFC forecasts a decrease in durum acres to 5.609 million, from 6.03 million, the analyst thought durum was still the most favourable crop for producers in the durum-growing regions of Western Canada.

While durum supplies will be large heading into the new crop year, he said durum farmers were used to holding onto large stocks.

In speaking with durum farmers across Western Canada, he said “durum acres could be very similar, because they are already hearing about lower durum acres in the U.S. and Europe.”

As far as wheat is concerned, Jubinville thought most producers would wait until after the Canadian Wheat Board releases its new-crop pool return outlooks in late February before making any decisions. AAFC currently estimates all wheat acres in 2009 at 23.895 million, down from 25.009 million in 2008.

Oats acres are expected to remain steady, according to AAFC. However, Tracy Glessing of North East Terminal thought current prices weren’t that favourable for oats, which could cause some acres to shift into other crops.

Glessing, who works out of NET’s Wadena, Sask. office, about 220 km east of Saskatoon, thought wheat would see the most gain from any decrease in oats area. But overall, Glessing didn’t expect to see any large shifts away from current rotations.

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