UPDATE 1-Viterra sees bigger Canada canola plantings

Thu Apr 12, 2012 4:48pm EDT

* Sees plantings of 20 mln-21 mln acres canola

* Previous estimate was 18.5 mln-19.5 mln acres

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, April 12 (Reuters) - Canada's biggest grain handler, Viterra Inc, said on Thursday that Western Canadian canola plantings look to reach 20 million to 21 million acres this spring, smashing last year's record high of 18.5 million acres.

Farmers are set to expand canola's area due to the oilseed's high price and a return to dry spring conditions after two years of flooding that took millions of acres out of production, said Doug Wonnacott, chief operating officer of agri-products for Viterra.

"Based on what we've seen in seed bookings, it's going to be an exceptional year," Wonnacott said in an interview with Reuters. "Twenty to 21 million acres, that's a realistic range."

On March 8, Viterra forecast canola acres of 18.5 million to 19.5 million acres in Western Canada.

Canada is the world's leading exporter of canola, a variant of rapeseed that is used as a vegetable oil, in making biodiesel and feeding livestock.

Canola offers high returns to farmers, with strong demand from exporters and crushers, and it is also lucrative for grain companies like Viterra because of its heavy use of fertilizer.