Extended winter could lead to more Prairie oat acres

StatsCan report already suggests small increase in acres

(Doug Wilson photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

CNS Canada — With winter still hanging on across Western Canada, one buyer thinks it could lead to an uptick in oat acres.

“Later seeding generally increases oat acres. We’d rather see them seeded earlier but farmers have had a tendency when things get late (to) throw some more acres into oats,” said Scott Shiels of Grain Millers Canada at Yorkton, Sask.

According to Shiels, oats can be a bit hardier than other crops against frost, where wheat could find itself downgraded to feed grade. There are also new shorter-season varieties available.

Prices are also holding steady for oats; new-crop contracts are priced around $3 per bushel, with Shiels saying he has contracts all the way into 2019.

“Markets are steady, futures have been down, but basis levels have been adjusting accordingly to keep the price kind of in that $3 range for a cash market around here,” he said.

Canadian farmers seeded 3.15 million acres of oats last year. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is predicting a two per cent increase to 3.27 million acres, according to its Outlook for Principal Field Crops report on March 22.

Shiels said he expects oat acres to rise by five per cent from last year’s acreage, but is optimistic acres could rise by 10 per cent.

Statistics Canada releases its Principal Field Crop Areas report on April 27.

“I talk to farmers all day, every day. So that’s where I take my feedback. And the reasons that they give me (for planting oats this year) make a lot of sense,” Shiels said. “Prices are good; growing milling oats is easier than growing high-protein red spring wheat.”

Shiels has heard from farmers that they aren’t expecting to get out into the fields until May 10 at the earliest. He did have one conversation with a farmer who was predicting not being in the fields until the Victoria Day long weekend (May 19-21).

“I don’t agree with him, but he’s talking May long and I mean that’s scary. But we’ve seen it before and we don’t want to see it again, but that’s the reality of it,” Shiels said, adding farmers in the Yorkton area received another four inches of snow earlier in the week.

Once late seeding comes into play, Shiels also finds farmers aren’t looking to put too much money into inputs for crops, making oats attractive. The current drought conditions on the Prairies factor into that too, Shiels added.

“(With) conditions being dry, producers tend to be thinking of those lower-input crops and oats are one of those,” he said. “You’ve still got to spend some money but your bottom line looks better when you’re not throwing $400 an acre into the ground.”

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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