SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Flooding along the Red River in the Canadian province of Manitoba looks to come early and not reach last year's levels, allowing farmers to begin fieldwork on time, a provincial government official said on Friday.
Early mild weather has led to slow, steady melting, causing the Red River to swell about two weeks earlier than last spring.
"I think it is good news," said David Kaminski, an official with Manitoba's Agriculture Department. "Things are shaping up."
Heavy rain or snow in the next few weeks would worsen the outlook, he said, but a return to freezing temperatures on Friday was expected to slow the river's rise.
The river's crest is expected to be 0.9 meters (3 feet) lower than last year in the province but similar to flooding in 2006, when Manitoba had its sixth-largest flood in 100 years.
The Red River valley in southern Manitoba is an important region for growing spring wheat and canola. Manitoba is the No. 3 province for production of the crops.
The rising Red left much farmland under water last year and caused some towns to protect themselves with rings of dirt and sandbags. Farmers left 420,000 acres unseeded, the most in four years, as they struggled to plant in wet fields.
Manitoba farmers should be able to begin fieldwork in the first week of May, within the normal time frame for planting, Kaminski said.
The river is forecast to crest in Manitoba from late March to early April.
The river is expected to crest at Fargo, North Dakota -- south of Manitoba -- this weekend.
Editing by Lisa Shumaker