After Triffid | Forget Europe and focus on the lucrative North American health market, says analyst
The flax industry wants growers to take additional steps to help restore the European market, but some analysts and processors believe it is lost forever.
The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission is asking growers to market all their existing planting seed in 2013 and 2014, especially deregistered varieties.
They want farmers to replace old stocks with reconstituted Triffid-free Crop Development Centre varieties for planting in 2014.
It’s the latest attempt at restoring a market decimated by the 2009 discovery of CDC Triffid, a genetically modified flax variety, in Canadian flax shipments.
“If we do this right, we can regain a significant customer base and hopefully, eventually discontinue the need for rigorous testing,” SaskFlax director Dave Sefton said in a news release.
Grant Fehr, flax-special crops manager at Keystone Grain Ltd. in Manitoba, said reconstituting the seed supply is a worthwhile effort, but he doubts it will restore the European market.
“We’ll never have them back. Eastern Europe is going to take that market. They have taken it. We will not get back in there,” he said.
Fehr recently spoke with flax traders who attended the BioFach 2013 world organic trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany and found little interest in Canadian flax.
“Canadian flax is still considered a swear word,” he said.
Growers, buyers, exporters and regulators have been testing flax seed for more than three years to ensure shipments meet European buyer stipulations that it contain less than .01 percent Triffid seed.
However, the testing hasn’t had much of an impact on sales. The EU imported 41,690 tonnes of Canadian flax in 2012 compared to pre-Triffid levels of 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes.
Larry Weber of Weber Commodities Ltd. questioned the wisdom of making farmers and exporters jump through hoops in an effort to maintain the European market.
“I think we’re chasing a dead horse. They’re not the most lucrative market,” he said in an interview following his flax presentation at Crop Production Week in January.
“I just think that we could spend a lot more time, effort and money chasing the (North American) health market because that’s where the money is.”
Sefton isn’t convinced the European market should be ignored, and he doesn’t believe it is never coming back.
“Never is a long time. Unless we try and unless we make an effort it will never happen.”
Rob Davies, chief executive officer of Weyburn Inland Terminal Ltd., agreed the industry needs to do everything in its power to rid the system of Triffid and lure the Europeans back.
“Why not have that market available? Why would you want to limit yourself in markets?” he said.
Davies said Europe isn’t the only market wanting to know the status of the flax it is buying. For instance, crushers in the United States want to ensure the seed they buy from Canada is Triffid-free because they may be sending their oil to the EU.
“Anybody who is going to buy flax is going to want to know what it is,” he said.
Even Fehr thinks the industry is doing the right thing by making every effort to rid the system of Triffid.
“Russia has Triffid, too. Kazakhstan has Triffid, too. One day it will be their turn. Then there’s a possibility of us getting back into the (European) market,” he said.
Weber is also convinced Black Sea countries have Triffid in their seed supply. He said Canada is the only country that produced new varieties in the past two decades, some of which made its way overseas.
He thinks Canada should buy 10,000 tonnes of Black Sea flax and test it for Triffid.
“Why we haven’t tested yet is beyond me,” Weber said.