Royal family

Chuck Penner, in his canola outlook in this issue, forecasts Canadian canola acres at 23.75 million, another record for queen canola. Is this too many for long-term canola sustainability?

Think back to 2014. The Canola Council of Canada launched its Keep It Coming strategy, with a target of 52 bu./ac. average yield and a production and sales target of 26 million tonnes per year by 2025. The sales target was (and is) on track with market-growth trends. The high-yield goal was (and is) necessary to meet sales targets and keep acres in check.

In the strategy, acres are pinned at 22 million, considered at or near the top end for long-term sustainability. Just look at the clubroot situation in 2017 and the heavy priority on clubroot management among CCC agronomy specialists for 2018 as one example of the link between rotation and sustainability.

A March 2014 Canola Digest article on Keep It Coming includes this line: “This [target] is not about adding substantially more acres of canola. It’s about using science and innovation to get more from the acres we sow.” That is still true today, but this strategy relies on strong markets and strong returns for pulse, cereal and other crops in the rotation. But two big rotation crops for canola – wheat and peas – face their own pressures.

India’s tariff on pulse imports does not help Canada’s princely pea acres, which can work very well, both economically and agronomically, in a rotation with canola. The down-shift in king wheat acres in Western Canada is not helpful to a sustainable rotation.

In her cereals market outlook at CropSphere in Saskatoon in January, Marlene Boersch of Mercantile Consulting Venture in Winnipeg presented the graph at the bottom of this article.

“This slide could and does indicate Canadian farmers’ ability to adapt to market signals, especially with regard to canola and pulses,” Boersch says. “But given clear increases in internationally-traded wheat volumes in recent years, it may also show that we are simply losing competitiveness in this market – which is due to all kinds of factors. I don’t think Canada still has a leadership role in wheat markets.”

Canadian wheat needs its groove back.

Market access and market development are priorities for an export-driven nation like Canada. They always have been, and as long as we remain a country where production of canola, cereals and pulses widely outstrips domestic demand, they will remain so. Canada also needs to maintain international competitiveness and high standards for quality and reliable, safe supply. This is as true for wheat and peas as it is for canola.

On rotations, my colleague Angela Brackenreed noted recently that the economic return for a rotation cannot simply be broken down into individual crops. The disease break from cereals and pulses and the increase in available nitrogen that pulses can provide will both help canola yields immensely, but when we run economics these benefits are often gathered up entirely in the canola yield and profit equation, she says. That isn’t fair to the rotation crops.

The benefit of diversity that comes from a crop rotation is not about competition between individual crops. A rotation is a farming system greater than the sum of its parts. Forget about acreage crowns passing from king wheat to queen canola, and about baron barley, prince pea and lord lentil (I could go on) fighting for heir apparent. Long-term sustainability of all crops and all grain farms in Canada depends on a strong royal family.

Biggest increases in wheat production in the past five years
Source: Marlene Boersch, Mercantile Consulting Venture *million tonnes
CountryProduction 2017*Production five years ago*Percent change