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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian farmers in parts of southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan have started planting wheat and peas a week to 10 days ahead of normal to take advantage of early spring melting, a Canadian Wheat Board official said on Tuesday.
"Soils are warming and they're trying to get a jump on things," said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis for the Wheat Board.
Temperatures have ranged from 2 to 12 degrees Celsius above normal, pushing the spring snow melt to completion, according to the Wheat Board. Farmers in most parts of the Prairies will have to wait a few weeks for the risk of frost to decrease, the board said.
Manitoba's planting areas received 10-45 mm (0.4 to 1.8 inches) of rain during the weekend, but there was little rain where it is needed most, in dry areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Alberta farmers who are already planting, mainly south of Medicine Hat and Calgary, take the risk of cold temperatures returning and damaging early-seeded crops, said Harry Brook, a crop specialist with the Alberta government.
"The only problem is they're always jumping the gun when it comes to seeding," he said. "And it germinates and winter comes back and kills it off."
Seeding early can also expose plants to frost in June, which forced many farmers to reseed fields last year.
Canada is the world's top exporter of spring wheat, durum and canola.
Most farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada's top crop-growing province, won't think seriously about planting cereals or canola until at least mid-April, said Grant McLean, cropping management specialist for the provincial agriculture department.
"Most people in west-central Saskatchewan and up into Alberta are praying for a nice rain."
In the most eastern Prairie province of Manitoba, some farmers have begun applying fertilizer but there have been no reports of early planting, said Pam deRocquigny, a business development specialist with the provincial agriculture department.
Most farmers are aiming for a mid-April start to planting cereals, she said.
Last year, a wet spring left 420,000 acres unseeded in Manitoba, the most in four years. The wettest areas were north and east of Winnipeg, but planting conditions have improved there this year, deRocquigny said.
Editing by Jim Marshall