Canada eyes soil moisture ahead of spring planting

Thu Mar 20, 2008 10:40am EDT
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By Roberta Rampton

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A wide swath of Canada's southern and central grain belt needs more snow and rain in the next four to six weeks to ease concerns about dry soils ahead of spring planting, crop specialists said.

"The critically dry areas are southern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, south-central Saskatchewan. Most of the fields are bare," said Bruce Burnett, head of weather and crop surveillance for the Canadian Wheat Board.

"It is a big concern as we get into planting," he said, adding there were less than two inches of available soil moisture in the dry areas.

Soil moisture reserves act as a "cushion" for dry spells during the growing season, Burnett explained.

The same region had low reserves ahead of last year's crop. Ample spring rains helped crops get off to a good start, but a hot, dry July slashed production.

With better moisture reserves, the crop might have achieved average yields, Burnett said.

Canada is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat, durum, barley, canola, flax and pulses like peas and lentils.

Planting typically begins in mid- to late April in southern areas, and in May in the northern grain belt.   Continued...

<p>A local farmer cuts an oat crop north of Cochrane, Alberta in an undated photo. REUTERS/Patrick Price</p>