Flax industry confident seed supplies adequate

Triffid elimination causes uncertainty | Some farmers worry prices will soar due to limited varieties next year

Concerns are growing about flax seed prices and availability next spring as Canada puts the finishing touches on efforts to rid the country of the genetically modified variety Triffid.

However, Todd Hyra of SeCan said he doesn’t expect problems next year.

“One of my goals is to make sure the market isn’t shorted next spring,” said Hyra, who is in charge of seed increase for both the new and the re-constituted flax varieties that meet the non-Triffid criteria.

“Availability for 2014 should be good. We have more seed production in the ground right now than we’ve had in the past three or four years. In fact, going back in time, we have way more seed production now than we’ve had traditionally. That’s in anticipation of demand for non-Triffid seed next spring.”

The industry efforts were required after traces of Triffid were found in flax shipments to Europe. The discovery closed the doors to that market and prompted steps to rid the flax supply of GM content.

Hyra said SeCan will release two reconstituted varieties that were produced from the original stock dating back before the Triffid contamination. They are CDC Sorrel 14 and CDC Bethune 14, the benchmark variety to which all new varieties are compared.

The two new varieties — CDC Sanctuary and CDC Glas — were developed before the Triffid crisis but were never released.

SeCan also handles three eligible Ag Canada varieties: AC Prairie Grand, AC Prairie Blue and AC Hanley.

As for rumours of high prices, Hyra said: “I haven’t heard of anything above $24 or $25 (per bushel), but when (flax) commodity prices move up to $17, you have to expect seed prices to rise accordingly. It’s logical that seed prices will rise.”

Will Hill of the Flax Council of Canada said the target was to have enough seed for one million acres of flax when the industry initiated the program to produce enough non-Triffid seed for 2014.

ADVERTISMENT

“Seeded acres have been going up again in the last two years, but we still expect to have enough certified seed for that one million acre target. We’ll know for sure when we get reports on what’s going in the ground right now,” Hill said.

“Responsible growers realize that using certified seed is the only way to deal with our market issue in Europe. As for high prices, I haven’t gotten any feedback yet on prices for the new varieties or the reconstituted varieties.”

Hill said high commodity prices naturally force seed prices higher, but farmers receive a premium price when they sell back to the elevator.

It would be bad news for flax growers and the entire industry if seed growers used this temporary situation to extract additional price premiums from farmers, he added.

“So, in other words, we have a market level for certified seed. Pick a number. Any random number. Say 50 bucks or whatever. That’s where the certified seed should trade. We wouldn’t want to see some seed growers trying to sell at 80 or 90 or 100.

“There’s a natural concern when we have an extraordinary event that some people might take advantage of it. But that’s not in their own best interest nor in the best interest of the flax industry.”

Canterra representative Rick Love said both varieties carried by his company have been available for awhile and were never affected by the Triffid controversy.

“We have AC Prairie Thunder and AC Lightning. They both came out of the Agriculture and Agrifood Canada breeding program,” Love said.

“Their breeding program hasn’t had a history or evidence of GM contamination in any of their plant materials.”

ADVERTISMENT

Love said pedigreed seed supplies haven’t been abundant, which makes the forces of supply and demand more obvious. That’s one factor preventing seed prices from falling.

He said the other factor is that SeCan has spent a lot of money to ensure there will be a good supply of seed, and that cost ultimately has to be passed to commercial growers.

“In our shop this year, we had a suggested retail price for certified flax seed in the neighborhood of $24.50 a bushel. That’s the same as last year.

“Going forward to next year, unless there’s a major commodity price spike, I would be surprised if prices are different from that $24.50. I certainly would not expect the market to bear anything like $35 a bu.

“And I doubt the prospect of those high prices would encourage pedigreed seed growers to increase production because they simply would not believe $35 is obtainable. They’d really hear it from their customers.”

Viterra rep Ryan Mccann hasn’t heard anything about seed shortages for 2014.

“We’re in a good position to grow the market next year with all our flax varieties. We have no issues with shortages,” said Mccann.

“We never did have a GM issue in our breeding program. We have one existing variety we launched three years ago. That’s NuLin VT50. It’s beginning to get traction now.”

Mccann said Viterra works only with NuLin varieties, the trademark for high omega 3. Its varieties also have high iodine and higher oil compared to traditional varieties.

ADVERTISMENT

“There are two new NuLin varieties we’re releasing for 2014. Those are WestLin 70 and WestLin 71. And of course, they’re both non-Triffid varieties.”

  • Monte Kesslering

    Viterra’s flax breeding program in Saskatoon works on both high omega 3 or NuLin types, and with traditional flax. WestLin 70 and WestLin 71 are the first traditional, brown seeded varieties that will be released from the Viterra breeding program and will be available to farmers in 2014. NuLin VT50 is a yellow seeded variety that is grown under a closed loop, identity preserved contract and is seeing significant growth in demand from food and industrial customers.