Thursday was the close of canola week in Saskatchewan, and Gerry Hertz was driving back to his farm.
He spent a few days in Saskatoon, keeping up with the latest canola research. That’s what canola week is all about: a meeting of the best minds in the canola world.
“There’s some pretty brilliant people that we’ve got working in the research community trying some pretty amazing things that, ten years down the road, might take us to a whole other level of production,” he said.
But Hertz, a professional agronomist who serves on the board of SaskCanola, is worried. That might seem strange, since Statistics Canada just announced a record-breaking year for canola. Saskatchewan farmers brought in 11.2 million tonnes this harvest, 4.7 per cent higher than last year.
“On my particular farm and in the Edenwold area, people were pleasantly surprised and pleased about how the year ended up,” Hertz said.
Still, Hertz is worried — worried that farmers might be investing too much in canola.
“We’re walking closer to a cliff,” he said. “Blackleg has been inching its way up, and if you’ve got the right kinds of conditions and tight rotations, sometimes a problem that’s lurking in the background might just rear its head really bad.”
Tight rotation — planting canola more frequently on the same land, with fewer interludes growing other crops — is part of what’s driving those record hauls. But it also means more risk, Hertz said, especially from diseases like blackleg and clubroot. It’s like the stock market. Diversification is protection, but invest it all in one place and you stand to lose big.
“If you’re growing canola every year, you’re risking a lot of potential problems if something shows up,” Hertz said. “They haven’t got burnt for a while, and they’re probably going to continue to do that.”
Climate and economics are both strong motivations to keep playing with fire — or at least to move a little bit closer to the heat.
Florian Hagmann, who farms about 8,000 acres near Birch Hills, wasn’t worried about canola this year. He was worried about wheat. A string of wet falls led to issues with fusarium, a fungus that can wreak havoc with wheat at harvest time.
Besides, durum wheat prices have been falling for years, and other forms of wheat are flat. But canola is up above $500 a tonne. Farmers have to squeeze income out of every bit of land, he said, to make up for rising overhead costs.
“The crop income to the farmer didn’t change, but the cost of the machinery, the cost of the land, was really high,” Hagmann said. “The margin is getting tighter, so farmers are starting to farm every acre.”
So Hagmann shifted some of his land from wheat to canola. He said farmers are also taking advantage of no-till methods that eliminate the need to leave land fallow.
Together, those factors are pushing up the expanse of land used to cultivate canola. Yields were slightly down this year, but Saskatchewan farmers harvested canola on more land than ever — 12.7 million acres. Wheat production fell 11.3 per cent — to 12.9 million tonnes — with a big drop in yield and a smaller slide in cultivated area.
Hertz said those are long-term trends. The world is “awash” in low-protein wheat, he said, and no-till techniques have been in use for years. But this spring was the first growing season that canola overtook the grain that adorns Saskatchewan’s flag, at least in cultivated acres.
Source : Leaderpost