OTTAWA, CANADA — Canadian farmers planted 16% more durum wheat during the current marketing year as lower canola prices caused them to shift away from oilseeds, according to a report from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture.

The durum planted area was 2.3 million hectares, an increase of 22,000 hectares from the five-year average. Canola fell 0.8% to 8.4 million hectares.

“While canola remains one of the top four most profitable crops in the Canadian prairies after variable costs, uncertainty over cash prices and future export demand has led producers to turn to other crops, most notably durum wheat,” the USDA said.

Spring wheat planted area dropped 5% to 7.25 million hectares in the market year, but it is still 6% above the five-year average. Durum, lentils and barley replaced some of the area due to better returns.

Spring wheat prices have remained stable and durum prices have increased during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the USDA said.

Since March 1, cash prices for durum have steadily increased 9%, C$290 per tonne as of July 16, according to price quotes from a cross-section of delivery points.

COVID-19 has contributed to a 10% increase in the amount of Western amber durum wheat being milled as consumers increased purchases of pasta.

Increased flour and products made with flour purchases for home consumption helped offset the decline in restaurant usage, the USDA said.

“Industry sources have shared that, since the third week of March, Canada’s flour mills and large bakeries have been running around the clock to meet increased demand,” the USDA said. “The three largest milling companies in Canada grind 90% of domestically produced flour are currently operating at capacity. Sources indicate this large and rapid increase in demand has put stress on flour production capacity, packaging capacity, transportation capacity, and warehousing capacity. However, supply chains have been maintained and grocery shelves continue to be stocked.”