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MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110602 - Thursday, June 02, 2011 - Flood flight with MTS Flying over Delta Beach Property damage from flooding of Lake Manitoba can be seen from the air as we flew from St. Andrews to Twin Lakes to Delta Beach then the Portage Diversion and Hoop and Holler bend. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Mike Deal)
MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110602 - Thursday, June 02, 2011 - Flood flight with MTS Flying over Delta Beach Property damage from flooding of Lake Manitoba can be seen from the air as we flew from St. Andrews to Twin Lakes to Delta Beach then the Portage Diversion and Hoop and Holler bend. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Mike Deal)

Weather

Prairie flooding causes farming disaster Add to ...

Ian Wishart has coped with lots of bad weather conditions on his farm near Portage la Prairie, Man., but nothing like this year.

"I've never seen water where we are seeing water this year," said Mr. Wishart, who grows beans, potatoes and corn. "No one alive has ever seen water where we are seeing water this year."

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Mr. Wishart considers himself lucky. He has managed to plant just about all of his fields this spring. Many other farmers are still struggling to get a crop in, and some have given up on planting hundreds of acres. "My cousin has a 4,000 acre farm," Mr. Wishart said. "He probably won't get 1,500 acres planted."

The Canadian Wheat Board estimates that because of constant rainfall this spring, more than six million acres of farmland will go unplanted across the Prairies this year. That is an area roughly the size of the state of Vermont. And the figure could be even higher. If the weather does not improve, the total amount of abandoned land could jump to eight million acres.

That's better than the 10 million acres that went unseeded last year, but still far below normal. Typically about 500,000 acres are left unseeded.

Overall, the Wheat Board expects farmers to plant 20.3 million acres of wheat this year, nearly two million acres below average. That will be the second-smallest crop since 1971. Considering that last year's crop was the smallest, this will be the second straight year of poor returns for farmers. It's not just wheat. The canola crop, the second-largest grown in Western Canada, is also expected to be smaller this year.

The situation for many farmers has become "disastrous," said Bruce Burnett, the Wheat Board's director of weather and market analysis. "Any time that you can't plant the majority of your farm it is a great loss in income to the farmer and it can certainly, in individual circumstances, be very stressful," Mr. Burnett told reporters and industry representatives during a briefing on the Wheat Board's crop forecasts. He added that the financial loss to farmers, while hard to calculate, is expected to be in the billions of dollars.

Even farmers who managed to plant their crop could be in trouble. That's because most of the planting occurred after May 15, far later than usual. The late start means farmers won't be harvesting until later in the fall, which could put the crops at risk for frost damage. That can ruin their quality and lead to lower prices, something that hurt farmers last year.

If the bad weather wasn't enough, farmers could be losing out on near record high prices for wheat and other crops. The price of wheat has climbed more than 60 per cent in the past year and is now at about $7.60 (U.S.) a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. The price of corn, by far the most lucrative crop, has doubled in a year to $7.55 a bushel.

In total, Canadian farmers aren't the only ones suffering from bad weather. Farmers across much of the United States face similar wet conditions, and parts of Europe are in near-drought conditions. Russia, which suspended wheat exports last year because of a poor harvest, is experiencing dry weather that could affect this year's crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast world wheat production at 664.3 million tonnes for 2011, the third largest on record. But that doesn't include take into account the planting problems across Canada and the northern Untied States, the Wheat Board noted.

For now, farmers like Daniel Shwaluk can only wait and hope.

"It's raining right now and it rained two inches yesterday," Mr. Shwaluk said from his farm just south of Manitoba's Riding Mountain National Park in the western part of the province. Mr. Shwaluk, who grows canola, wheat, oats and barley, has planted just under 600 of his 700 acres. "I'm going to wait a month and hopefully it will dry out and I can get back at it."

Follow on Twitter: @PwaldieGLOBE

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