The prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) are the most important agricultural regions in Canada. They encompass an area of approximately 1.96 million square kilometers. This area experiences a large annual range of temperature, ranging from below freezing in winter to about 18 degrees Celcius in summer. Rainfall is generally light with most areas receiving 250mm – 500mm of rain per year.The soil is deep and has a high humus content. Wheat farming is an important activity on the Canadian Prairies.
Wheat is one of the world’s important cereal crops. More land is used for growing wheat than any other crop in the world. Wheat is processed to produced wheat flour which in turn is used to make many of the things we eat. In order for wheat to thrive, the following conditions are necessary:
- Annual rainfall between 300mm and 500mm, most of which should occur in the growing season.
- Temperatures should be between 15 and 21 degrees Celsius during the three month growing period.
- Large areas of flat land to enable the use of large machines.
- Deep, humus rich soil.
All these conditions exist on the Canadian Prairies. Therefore, this area is ideal for growing wheat.
After the snow melts and the ground thaws out, the fields are ploughed using large tractors with special attachments. This usually takes place in May. The seeds are planted using large machines and they germinate within a week. As the wheat grows it is fertilized. The crop is also sprayed to control pests and diseases.`The video provides additional information about growing wheat.
The wheat ripens between the end of August and early September. The crop turns a golden yellow colour. Wheat must be harvested quickly before colder weather causes frost (which can damage the plants and reduce yields). Combine harvesters are used to cut the crop and separate the grain from the rest of the plant. The wheat is then transported by truck to the nearest grain elevator. The video below shows wheat being harvested in Canada.
Trends in Canadian Wheat Farming
Wheat farms are very large. Many are over 600 hectares in size. This is an extensive form of agriculture. The yield per hectare is low, however, farms are so large that farmers are able to make large profits.
Wheat farming is capital intensive. There is a very heavy reliance on machinery for ploughing, planting, spraying the crop and harvesting. A large proportion of expenditure goes toward machinery, chemicals and other equipment. Most of the work can be handled by just a few workers using machines such as combine harvesters and harrows. One or two extra helpers may be hired during planting or harvest time.
The trend on the Canadian Prairies is towards larger farms. For instance, average farm size in Saskatchewan is now about 675 hectares. The number of farms has decreased significantly during the past few decades. There is also a trend toward using less labour and more machinery. The machinery being used is also becoming more sophisticated.