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File photo of wheat crops in Alberta.Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Farmers in Canada, the world's top canola grower and one of the biggest wheat exporters, will probably be able to sow grain and oilseed crops early for the second straight year as El Nino brings warmer-than-usual weather across the prairies.

Temperatures are expected to remain at or above normal in the first half of April, according to Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland. Average temperatures this spring are expected to exceed those of 2015 because of the El Nino weather pattern, he said. Last year, seeding progress was as much as two weeks ahead of normal amid mild, dry weather.

"Over all, it's certainly going to be a positive here for planting," Mr. Widenor said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "The bigger concern is once everything gets in the ground, do we start to get more worried about some of the dryness issues that become more extensive in the spring?"

Last year, Alberta, the country's second-largest grower of wheat and canola, declared a disaster after drought parched wheat and canola fields. Dryness may be a concern heading into summer with moisture deficits in parts of Alberta and precipitation that's expected to be at or below normal across the prairies in spring, Mr. Widenor said.

Farmers will probably start planting in the first half of April, about two weeks earlier than most years, said Bruce Burnett, a weather and crop specialist with grain marketer G3 in Winnipeg. Sowings of wheat, barley and oats will probably decline as much as 10 per cent this year because of lower prices, and growers will move more acres toward pulses amid strong demand for the crops, he said.

If dry conditions persist, some farmers may shift more acres to crops that can better tolerate drought, including wheat and pulses, Mr. Burnett said.

"The key is going to be the weather," Mr. Burnett said, noting that it will be essential to get 5.1 centimetres of rain before the end of April. "If we get into some hot, dry weather early on that could change some seeding intentions."

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