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Heavy rains, flooding threaten harvests in Manitoba, Saskatchewan

Doug Chorney, Manitoba farmer and president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers inspects one of his flooded fields of canola just outside Selkirk Thursday, July 3, 2014.


Farmers in flood-ravaged parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan face an uncertain harvest after heavy rains swamped fields and destroyed crops.

It's too soon to estimate the value or acreage of crops ruined by the flooding, but certain areas will have "significant damage," said Shannon Friesen, a crop specialist with the government of Saskatchewan.

Parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have been declared under a state of emergency after receiving as much as 200 millimetres of rain last weekend. Homes have been flooded and roads washed out.

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Doug Chorney, a grain grower near Selkirk, Man., said the six inches of rain that fell last weekend capped a difficult spring for farmers in parts of Western Canada.

Planting started late due to a wet and cold spring. And heavy rains even before last weekend meant as many as one million acres – 10 per cent of cropland – went unseeded, said Mr. Chorney, who estimates Manitoba's entire canola crop is threatened.

Mr. Chorney, who is president of the Manitoba farm group Keystone Agricultural Producers, said some of his members are having a tough time getting supplies and fuel due to the washed-out roads. And many have livestock that are at risk of starvation. He knows one farmer who was unable to plant feed, and has no dry pasture on which his cattle can graze.

"Basically every dip and dive has been drowned out. Now with this rain in the last week we've seen overland flooding, water rushing across roads, cutting roads," said Mr. Chorney, who said the focus for many has shifted from the state of their crops to saving their homes and animals.

Saskatchewan grows half the country's canola and is the biggest producer of durum wheat and other grains. Canada is the world's seventh biggest grain producer, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The floods will mean a smaller harvest in the fall, but a large carry-over of grain from last year's record harvest is expected to bolster supplies, said Gail Martell, an analyst who runs Martell Crop Projections in Milwaukee.

Prices for wheat and canola have held firm despite the heavy rain in the Prairies and parts of the U.S. Midwest. Ms. Martell said in an interview she expects prices will rise and the harvest will be smaller than forecast, given low-lying fields will dry too slowly to let grain plants take root.

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John Duvenaud, who writes the agriculture market advisory Wild Oats, said he agrees the harvest could be smaller, but the prairie floods will not significantly move the market price.

"There's no doubt that there's been some serious damage done, but on a global basis I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal," he said from Winnipeg.

"Too much rain on the Prairies certainly hurts when you're the person [getting flooded], but generally the more rain, the more grain."

Mr. Chorney, who farms east of Selkirk, said a dry forecast will offer some relief, but overland flooding could intensify on July 11, when the Assiniboine River is expected to crest.

"There's a pile of water yet to come," Mr. Chorney said.

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