By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Sunny skies may allow Canadian farmers to swiftly make up for harvest delays this week, wrapping up a nightmarish season for some.
But while the harvest is finally on its way in the third-biggest wheat-exporting country, weather troubles look to dent farm incomes due to quality problems that are also forcing some millers to scrounge for supplies.
As of early last week, harvesting of major crops was only half finished in Alberta, at a time when usually it is nearly complete. Harvests in other provinces are more advanced.
Hot, dry summer weather raised fears about shrunken yields, before rain and snow in September stalled field work. Alberta is the second-biggest wheat-growing province, accounting for about one-third of Canada's output.
At Kevin Bender's farm near Sylvan Lake, Alberta, wet weather shut down harvest operations for a full month starting in early September, leaving him just one-quarter finished as of a week ago and "behind the eight-ball," he said.
Warm weather in the past week allowed Bender to double his progress harvesting wheat, canola and barley to 50 percent finished, and he expects to nearly finish this week if the weather holds.
Even so, much of the province's wheat will fall short of milling quality, which pays farmers the highest prices, because wet weather caused it to sprout in the field, affecting potential dough strength for bakers.
"The quality is gone and not coming back," said Bender, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission industry group.
That prospect made for a nervous autumn for Rogers Foods, a subsidiary of Japan's Nisshin Seifun Group <2002.T>. The British Columbia miller normally buys in Alberta all of its Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat, which it mills into flour that produces bread, tortillas and bagels.
Sub-par Alberta crops pose the biggest threat to Rogers' supply in about a decade, forcing it to shop for CWRS wheat further east in Saskatchewan, at greater cost, said grain procurement manager Pip Jordan.
Alberta wheat still in fields is unlikely to be suitable, Jordan said.
"It's a serious situation," he said.
Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N), which mills wheat in Alberta, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mills owned by Ardent Mills, a joint venture of Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], CHS Inc (CHSCP.O) and Conagra Brands Inc (CAG.N), are located east of Alberta, mitigating the potential impact on its supply.
"There are pockets of quality issues in some areas as crops were not harvested before the moisture came. We’ve experienced this before, and we have processes in place to ensure consistent supply of quality and functional flours,” said Buck Vanniejenhuis, general manager for Ardent's Canadian division.
Thankfully for millers in Canada, the United States and Japan - the major buyers of high-quality Canadian wheat - earlier harvested crops from Manitoba and Saskatchewan should provide ample supplies, said Cam Dahl, president of industry group Cereals Canada.
"That was absolutely a beautiful crop," he said of the earlier harvest, adding that he did not expect any reduction in exports due to Alberta's wheat quality problems.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Tom Brown)