By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Frost late last week in the Canadian Prairie province of Manitoba wiped out many canola fields, driving up the oilseed's price and generating hundreds of insurance claims from farmers.
The damage from unseasonable freezing temperatures on Friday and early Saturday was worst in western Manitoba, Angela Brackenreed, agronomy specialist in Manitoba for the Canola Council of Canada, said on Monday.
"There's a lot of fields that are completely written off, that need to be re-seeded," she said.
Brackenreed said it is too early to estimate the number of acres lost as damage varied widely from one field to another.
ICE Canada November canola futures jumped 3.4 percent on Monday.
The frost compounded worries about the size of the crop in Canada, the biggest producer and exporter of canola, a futures trader said. Some crops on Western Canada's Prairies have struggled with too little moisture, and the number of acres planted was already smaller than expected.
Canola is crushed to produce vegetable oil, used in foods such as margarine and salad dressings.
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp, the provincial government corporation that sells crop insurance to farmers, recorded 700 claims on Monday, nearly doubling the total for the whole year, said David Van Deynze, manager of claims.
The claims are mainly for canola, and Van Deynze said he expected more to flow in this week.
"Honestly, our phones are ringing off the hook."
He said the corporation had not tallied how many acres are included in the claims.
Cereals such as wheat, barley and oats are better able to withstand cold than canola.
The frost hit early enough in the growing season that farmers still can re-plant their crops if they choose, Brackenreed said. Some traders said, however, that farmers may find it difficult to buy seed, which is typically in low supply after planting season.
Damage hit most of western Manitoba and parts of eastern Manitoba, Van Deynze said. Farmers in the southern half of the province must plant canola by June 20 to qualify for crop insurance, while the deadline is June 15 for northern areas.
Damage was also visible in some fields on Monday in northeastern Alberta, where light frosts hit last week, said Lawrence Yakielashek, general manager of FarmLink Marketing Solutions, who was driving across the Prairies.
(Editing by Franklin Paul and Peter Galloway)