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The late thaw means seeding will likely be delayed on this field north of Prince Albert, in the rural municipality of Buckland. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

A late thaw isn't the only thing that could stall Saskatchewan farmers this year. Fuel retailers said Tuesday without a staggered start to seeding, the demand for diesel could outstrip supply.

In other years, farmers across the southern grainbelt have usually begun spring seeding by late April. Producers in central areas generally start a week or two later.  

'Everybody's going to be seeding at the same time'

This year, however, many prairie farmers are still waiting for fields to dry.

"It's all going to come in at once this year," said Chris Adair, manager of fuel sales for Rack Petroleum, an independent fuel retailer in Biggar. 

"Everybody's going to be going as early as they can which is going to put pressure on the diesel fuel for sure," said Adair. "Everybody's going to be seeding at the same time, I believe, this year."  

Refineries undergoing maintenance shutdowns

Suncor's refinery in Edmonton is currently shut down for routine maintenance, putting additional pressure on diesel stocks, Adair said.

Imperial Oil's Strathcona refinery will also undergo a scheduled shutdown this month.  

As well, officials said the Co-op Refinery in Regina is in the middle of a maintenance shutdown.

"We've done what we can to ensure the flow of diesel is there when our customers need it," said Daryl Oshanek, a spokesman for Federated Co-operatives Ltd (FCL).

He said the tanks at Regina's refinery are full. In addition, FCL has stored diesel at 66 bulk fuel plants across rural Saskatchewan. Many of those plants were upgraded recently, to allow for more storage capacity.

"We have more volume available than before," said Oshanek.   

Diesel usage up

Adair said Tuesday he expected diesel supplies to be "tight" this spring. He said modern farm machinery is more fuel-efficient than the equipment used in past decades, but large-scale farm operations mean more diesel is required. 

"The equipment's bigger and the more horsepower it takes, the more fuel they burn. Although they do cover more acres with it, I believe the usage is up by quite a bit for these larger farmers," he said.

Smaller retailers say they've dealt with diesel shortages before, through rationing and allocations. They're encouraging farmers to fill their on-farm tanks to capacity, to avoid shortages over the next few weeks.

"We've done what we can do. It's up to the farmers now," said Oshanek. "Now it's just a matter of how Mother Nature cooperates."