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David Reid drives a seeding rig, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, as the family plant their wheat crop near Cremona, Alta., on May 6.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

A surge in prices fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the need for crops resilient to Western Canada’s recent bone-dry conditions prompted farmers to plant more acres of wheat than they have in almost a decade.

Some growers, however, are getting nervous as commodity prices fall from their highs. Agricultural experts, though, point out that markets are still stronger than in the past several years, and it is shaping up to be a good crop year.

Jason Lenz, who grows wheat, canola and barley at his farm near Red Deer, Alta., said the market surge brought on by the war in Europe was one factor in an 8.7-per-cent increase in acres planted with wheat, as reported by Statistics Canada on Tuesday.

“We saw record-high wheat prices – all commodity prices really – earlier this spring with regard to opportunities for the new crop for this year, so I think farmers definitely took note of that,” Mr. Lenz said.

In addition, the past few years of heat and dry conditions in the West prompted many farmers to seek crops that could withstand an increasingly harsh climate.

“Wheat is a crop that can handle and adapt and survive drier conditions than most other crops, so I think farmers looked at that as a reason to put in more wheat,” said Mr. Lenz, who also serves as vice-chairman of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

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This year, farmers in many regions in the West have experienced much wetter conditions, and heavy rains in northern Alberta even delayed seeding.

Western growers planted 25.4 million acres (10.3 million hectares) of wheat, the most since 2013, according to Statscan. The gains were led by spring wheat, up 10.5 per cent, and durum, up 8.6 per cent. The number of wheat acres rose in all three major producing provinces.

Some of the increase came at the expense of canola. Farmers planted 21.4 million acres (8.7 million hectares) of that crop, down 4.7 per cent from the previous year.

David Reid, who grows wheat near Cremona, Alta., north of Calgary, said he did not adjust his operations much as a result of the recent surging markets. “You look at projected prices for the fall, and input costs and everything, and then adjust our acreage one way or another depending on what we think will provide the best returns overall,” he said.

Market conditions are shifting quickly, and Mr. Reid said he is worried about the recent drop in prices. In May, they were up 65 per cent from the start of the year as Russia’s military choked off exports of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. Ukrainian farmers have also struggled with wheat fields strewn with mines as the conflict rages in many growing regions. Russia and Ukraine normally supply as much as 30 per cent of the world’s wheat.

This, as well as rising energy costs, have contributed to surging inflation. However, in recent weeks, worries about runaway prices causing a global recession have since hit agricultural and energy products hard. Wheat futures have fallen 36 per cent from their recent peak in May. On Tuesday, the price for July wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade sank nearly 5 per cent.

Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, said lower prices should not mean a big hit to farmers for this crop season. Much of the crop is sold on contract, he said. “They’ll get their money, but … they will have a product to sell in the fall,” Dr. Charlebois said.

Indeed, an increase in wheat production is positive for Canada and the rest of the world, he said. “The [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] and the World Bank will expect commodity prices to stabilize, which will eventually help our food-inflation situation.”

Mr. Lenz said farmers in his area tend not to tinker much with planned crop rotation in response to temporary economic conditions.

“It’s a little bit of short-term thinking and a little bit riskier to be chasing the quick buck on commodity markets. It’s better to, year over year, take some of the highs with the lows. It’s really about long-term thinking and the sustainability of our farms,” he said.

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