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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Record-large areas of cropland in North Dakota and Manitoba could go unplanted this year, government officials said on Wednesday, as flood water swamps much of the Canadian Prairies and U.S. northern Plains.
North Dakota farmers will likely leave 5 million to 5.5 million acres unplanted due to excessive moisture, said Doug Hagel, regional director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency in Billings, Montana.
The estimate is based on anecdotal accounts from USDA staff who work with farmers and a firmer estimate should be available in mid-July, Hagel said.
The current record-large unplanted area for the key growing state of wheat and canola is 3.9 million acres in 1999.
"In the last two years, we've had such heavy snowfall in the winter and then when that melts, the ground is saturated and these rains are coming through into the summer," Hagel said in an interview. "When they fall on saturated ground, it just runs off (across fields)."
Soaked farmland stretches across most areas of North Dakota, snatching acres from corn and soybeans in the east and from spring wheat, durum and barley in the west, he said.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers, who toured flooded farms in the western Canadian province this week, said he expects farmers to leave 3 million acres unplanted, more than double the previous record.
"I saw a mess -- a lot of water out in fields that should be in production by now," Struthers said in an interview with Reuters.
Keeping so much farmland fallow at a time of high crop prices will cost Manitoba's economy about C$1 billion ($1.03 billion), he said.
The province's unplanted acres estimate exceeds one last week from the Canadian Wheat Board, which said it expects 2.5 million acres in Manitoba to be fallow.
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp (MASC), the province's crop insurance provider, won't have official numbers until early July. David Koroscil, MASC's manager of insurance projects and sales, cautioned that estimates of Manitoba's unplanted acres are guesses until farmers file insurance claims by the June 30 deadline.
Some farmers used airplanes to seed canola onto soaked fields, but how much of that seed grows into crops is unclear, Koroscil said.
Much of southern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba received more than twice as much rain as usual during the past two months, according to Agriculture Canada data. (For link to map: bit.ly/lo1zmu)
Southern Manitoba got rain on Tuesday, with more in the forecast later this week for southern Saskatchewan, where rain has already swelled the Souris River and filled reservoirs.
Saskatchewan will leave about 4 million unplanted acres, the Wheat Board said last week.
The Souris River has now crested in Saskatchewan, but provincial officials are nervously eyeing a wet forecast for later this week.
"It is too early to say the worst is passed," said Dale Hjertaas, spokesman for the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority.
Statistics Canada will on Thursday report on the size of Canadian crop plantings, but its survey of farmers ended June 3 and didn't account for the last two weeks of wet weather.
There's so much water that excessively wet conditions could carry into next year's planting season, as they did from 2010, Struthers said.
Editing by Alden Bentley