* Much snow left to melt ahead of planting season
* Agrium sees two- to four-week planting delays
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, April 11 Fertilizer makers
may be hard-pressed this spring to move their yield-boosting
products to Western Canadian farmers during a shortened planting
season, as the potential for major flooding grows.
Cold weather has delayed the melt of heavy snowpack in the
provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, raising the
risk that floods in late April and May will keep farmers off
Once their fields dry out, farmers are expected to have a
tight window for planting crops such as canola and wheat, and
"There's a lot of (farmers) staring out the window and
pondering what the spring is going to look like when they get on
the field," said Kevin Helash, a vice-president with Agrium Inc
, which produces fertilizer and sells it at the retail
level under the name Crop Production Services (CPS).
"What we're getting ready for is everyone getting on the
field at more or less the same time, and being very, very
Western Canada's planting season usually starts in late
April and extends into early June. Helash sees planting across
the Prairies, except for southern Alberta, beginning two to four
weeks behind schedule.
Farmers are hesitant to plant late for fear that their crops
will still be maturing in early September, when the first
damaging frosts usually occur.
The biggest challenge will be moving popular nitrogen
fertilizers during a shortened season from Western Canada plants
owned by Yara International ASA, CF Industries Holdings
Inc and Agrium to hundreds of retail outlets, said David
Dow, who owns two stores and is chairman of the Canadian
Association of Agri-Retailers.
Retail suppliers normally have a seven-week spring season to
move fertilizer from the plants to the farmer, but that period
looks to be as short as three weeks this year, making it a
challenge to find enough trucks to do the job, said Dow, who has
built more storage facilities to ease the potential bottlenecks.
Yara, which runs a nitrogen plant at Belle Plaine,
Saskatchewan, is extending hours at its external warehouses and
plans to move truck drivers to the areas of greatest need during
spring, said Brian Kenyon, Yara's director of sales and
marketing for the northern Plains.
"I understand the angst of the customers that are worried
about whether we will be able to get the product to them, and
that's a very valid concern," Kenyon said.
"If we try to plant everything in two weeks because we don't
get started until the middle of May, yeah, there's a lot of
challenges ahead of us."
Nitrogen, in forms such as dry urea, liquid UAN and
anhydrous ammonia, is Western Canada's most widely used
fertilizer, but farmers also apply phosphate.
Mosaic Co Chief Executive Jim Prokopanko
acknowledged to Reuters on March 28 that significant floods
could affect movement of phosphate to the region, where Mosaic
was already having trouble moving potash to port because of
Washed-out roads also make moving fertilizer a big
challenge. The governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba said
this week that there is potential for major flooding, depending
on how fast snow melts and how much more precipitation falls.
The Prairies received well above normal winter snowfall,
with most of Saskatchewan's growing area collecting 1-1/2 times
to more than twice as much precipitation than usual.
Every stage of moving fertilizer is tricky in wet
conditions, including from farmyards to saturated fields, said
Greg McDonald, general manager of Grow Community of
Independents, a small group of crop supply dealers.
Farmers and suppliers are wondering how many of those fields
will be too wet to plant at all this year, he said.
Canada's western provinces produce most of the country's
wheat, canola, barley and oats. Widespread flooding was last
seen in 2011.
Farmers apply most of their fertilizer in spring or in
autumn, but last fall was wet and conditions were poor for
applying anhydrous ammonia, said Steve Biggar, assistant
vice-president of fertilizer and energy products for Richardson
"This spring is also going to be challenging just because
it's going to be later, and so it will be tougher to catch up,"
CF Industries, majority owner of Canada's largest nitrogen
fertilizer plant - Canadian Fertilizers Ltd at Medicine Hat,
Alberta - declined to comment, as it is in its quiet period
ahead of releasing quarterly results.
Based on CPS's seed sales and talks with farmers, Western
Canada is likely to sow less canola and more wheat, barley and
peas, Helash said.
Canola is a lucrative crop for farm retail and fertilizer
companies, since it requires large amounts of nitrogen.