September 13, 2011 / 3:48 PM / in 6 years

Prairie frost seen as minor crop threat

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Prairies’ first widespread frost of the growing season will probably do minimal damage to cereal and canola crops, with the harvest well ahead of the usual pace.

Environment Canada is forecasting freezing temperatures for Tuesday night in southern and central Saskatchewan -- the top crop-growing province -- ranging from minus 2 degrees C (28.4 Fahrenheit) at Kindersley, North Battleford and Maple Creek down to minus 5 degrees C (23 Fahrenheit) in Melfort and Yorkton.

Those temperatures are sufficiently cold to leave unripe canola seeds green, causing a quality downgrade, but there are fewer fields left to harvest than usual, said Grant McLean, cropping management specialist for the Saskatchewan government.

“The majority of the crop is past the point where we could see significant damage,” he said.

The overall Prairie harvest is well ahead of the normal pace, with 75 percent in farmers’ bins in Manitoba, 61 percent harvested in Saskatchewan and 53 percent harvested in Alberta, the Canadian Wheat Board said on Monday.

Late-seeded canola fields in northwestern Saskatchewan are the biggest concern. As of last Monday, 43 percent of the canola crop in that region was still standing, according to Saskatchewan’s agriculture department.

High canola prices enticed farmers to plant some of the oilseed crop late this spring despite wet conditions, leaving some of it yet to ripen.

The harvest of spring wheat, barley, durum and oats in Saskatchewan has lagged canola, but those crops are generally further developed and thus able to fend off frost damage better than canola, McLean said.

Even so, some spring wheat in northwestern Saskatchewan is vulnerable, he said.

Environment Canada, the government forecaster, sees lows of minus 3 degrees C (26.6 Fahrenheit) on Thursday in parts of western Manitoba.

Manitoba farmers have left less than 5 percent of the canola crop standing, mostly in northwestern areas, said Kristen Phillips, an agronomy specialist for the Canola Council of Canada.

Warmer temperatures are forecast for most of Alberta, where the harvest is furthest behind and crops would be the most vulnerable. Light frosts of minus 1 degree C (30.2 Fahrenheit) are forecast for Tuesday night at Lloydminster and minus 2 C (28.4 Fahrenheit) at Coronation.

Editing by Jim Marshall

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