Canola industry keen to get back on growth path


Growers and the rest of Canada’s canola industry are hoping 2021 brings it back to the growth trajectory that had been propelling it toward its goals.

Another year of flat production will make it seem almost impossible to achieve the Canola Council of Canada’s 2025 targets.

Right now, production and yields are only halfway between the goals set in 2013 and the 2025 target.

“As you can see, we still have a way to go to secure our production goals of the 2025 strategic plan,” said CCC President Jim Everson, March 18.

“To get there, we’ll need to see a substantial increase in average canola yields, which will in turn increase economic and environmental benefits on every acre.”

Indeed, at only slightly more than 40 bushels per acre, canola yields are nowhere near the 52 set out in the 2025 plan, which combined with the envisioned acreage base would produce a crop of 26 million tonnes per year.

In 2014, Canada produced about 15.6 million tonnes of canola, with an average yield of 31.5 bu. per acre. By 2016 production hit 18.4 million tonnes. In 2017 it hit 21.3 million tonnes and 41 bu. per acre. The 2025 goals seemed eminently achievable.

But that’s where things topped out.

2018 saw a slight decline to just above 20 million tonnes, and 2019 and 2020 both saw sub-19 million tonne crops.

Good weather helped with the years of substantial growth. Bad weather coincided with the years of stall and decline.

Everson said the canola industry is committed to striving to hit its 2025 goals, even if it does not succeed. Having aggressive goals helps push all the industry, including government, to reach toward them and create the conditions that will allow them to come true.

“The strategic plan helps put a focus on what we need from our partners in order to achieve those goals,” said Everson in an interview on the day of the CCC’s annual meeting.

“If you miss a couple of targets (it) doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful if the targets themselves have led to some positive change.”

In fact, canola seed exports in 2020 were almost at the 2025 target, at 11.8 million tonnes versus the 12 million tonne goal.

And processing has shot up greatly in recent years, with much investment in crushing and the development of foreign oil and meal markets.

That capacity should grow, with Richardson International announcing March 22 an investment to double the production of its Yorkton crushing plant.

Yields have surged higher, even if they are not near the 52 bushel per acre average needed to hit the official target. That yield came despite droughts, spring flooding and harvest time saturation and degradation.

“We’ve come a long way on yields,” said Everson.

“In the last few years we’ve had some challenges that are mostly caused by environmental circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing to outline an objective of getting to 52 bushels per acre.”

The CCC’s strategy has a multifaceted approach, combining breeding, agronomics and management. That remains, but a recent shift in emphasis has seen the focus put on managing “yield robbers,” such as diseases and combine seed losses.

Clubroot, blackleg and sclerotinia have all hammered yields in certain areas in certain years, and shrunk the acreage base, so minimizing losses is being seen as a major part of boosting overall production and yield.

So too is ensuring that seed developers can use all of today’s technologies, like gene-editing, around which Canada now has has confusing regulations that create uncertainty among investors.

“It’s going to be really important to have clear guidelines about gene-editing, for example, and how it’s going to be regulated,” said Everson.

Canola yields and production boomed in years of mostly good weather. Yields and production stalled when much of the Prairies suffered poor weather.

What would a return to good weather in 2021 or beyond mean for returning to the growth trajectory of Canadian canola?What will happen if challenging conditions continue?

That’s what the future will determine, and it’s what will make or break the canola industry’s targets, hopes and pride.

Years like 2013 would change everything to the positive. Years like 2018 and 2019 would be a whole different matter.