Maclean’s: Is Canada addicted to Canola?
Canola has positioned itself next to peanut butter and poutine as one of Canada’s greatest food inventions—something Keith Downey, a father of five and “Father of Canola,” could never have predicted when he and Winnipeg-based researcher Baldur Stefansson made the discovery back in the 1970s….
But has Canada become too reliant on the crop as a source of income?
“Farmers have been very much addicted to canola for a long time,” says Dilantha Fernando, a professor at the University of Manitoba. Year after year, canola has proven to be a profitable crop for farmers to plant. Fernando says this addiction invites poor crop practices, including tighter crop rotations, that contribute to the spread of disease—such as blackleg. The fungal disease, which first appeared in Saskatchewan in the mid-’70s, darkens canola’s stems and roots, and causes significant damage to the quality and yield of the crop. Over the years, scientists have introduced blackleg-resistant strains of canola, but as the crop evolves, so do the pathogens responsible for causing the damage….
“We need to look at both sides, rather than just complain that the Chinese are putting in these restrictions,” the plant scientist says. “Our farmers are going to be at the receiving end if we just allow them to go with an addiction to one crop, because that’s the way pathogens thrive and economics will tell us farmers will start to lose.”
These dockage restrictions, if put in place, would increase cleaning costs and mean more seed in each shipment for the same price—all translating into a lower price for Canadian producers, like Sears. “Down the road, if we see erosion in price forecasts for canola and any other product, it may make some producers change their cropping decisions,” he says, adding that in the end, farmers need to feed their families.