Rapeseed first hit its stride in the 1940s, helping out Canada’s war effort.
“It was cultivated very extensively as a marine lubricant during the middle of the Second World War,” Ag-West Bio Inc. president Wilf Keller said during a recent presentation.
The market evaporated abruptly when the war ended in 1945.
“The acreage declined substantially. In fact, in 1950 it was less than 500 acres,” said Keller.
“However, people who had worked with this crop realized that rapeseed had potential for growth in Western Canada. There was a need for a domestic vegetable oil in Western Canada.”
Public breeding programs started working on the crop and by 1954 the first Canadian-bred rapeseed cultivar was introduced.
Researchers realized they needed to develop lines of rapeseed that were low in erucic acid and glucosinolates, two undesirable traits for human and animal health.
They began an extensive process of looking for mutant lines that were low in both of those attributes. In 1974, the University of Manitoba re-leased the first double zero line of rapeseed, called Tower.
By 1978, the Rapeseed Association of Canada coined the term “canola” to refer to the double zero lines. The association later became the Canola Council of Canada.
The next revolution in canola came in 1995 with the limited release of Liberty Link and Roundup Ready canola. By 1997, herbicide tolerant lines were grown extensively in Western Canada.
Today, more than 95 percent of the canola grown is herbicide tolerant varieties, said Maurice Delage, a farmer from Indian Head, Sask., who along with Keller played a pivotal role in developing Liberty Link canola.
“Farmers have adopted this technology very, very quickly because it was very obvious in the beginning that there was a strong economic incentive to do so,” he said during a recent presentation.
“It was very difficult to grow canola because there was no broad spectrum weed control in that crop.”
The second major breakthrough came eight years later with the commercial introduction of the first synthetic hybrid canola lines.
“This was a quantum leap because it took an open pollinated crop into a whole new era,” said Delage.
“From one day to the next, essentially, you were able to jump yields by 25 to 30 percent.”
Delage said hybrids paved the way for a crushing industry that will soon be able to process 10 million tonnes of canola. This year’s crop is estimated at 16 to 17 million tonnes.
“This industry could not have existed this way without biotechnology,” he said. “No one was going to invest in these crushing plants unless they were assured a supply, and the only way that supply came to market is with the development of hybrids.”
Canola delivered $8.23 billion in farm cash receipts in 2012, nearly doubling wheat’s $4.18 billion contribution that year.
Rick White, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said farmers have grown to love the crop.
“When wheat prices were down, canola was the money maker, canola was the cash crop and farmers fortunately had that as a viable option.”
Growers have become adept at growing the crop. They like how it fits into their rotations, the herbicide options, the reduced tillage and the lower input costs, said White.
However, not every farmer is enamored with the way the industry has evolved, including Terry Boehm, former president of the National Farmers Union, who grows non-genetically modified canola on his farm near Allan, Sask.
“Where it is really having a negative impact is the price of seed and the model that has been established that doesn’t allow farmers to save and reuse seed,” he said.
“I would say that farmers are paying probably three times more at a minimum than they should be for seed, plus they’re buying it every year.”
Organic growers complain that the prevalence of GM canola and the inability to keep it from contaminating nearby fields has taken a crop out of their rotation.
There have also been problems with volunteer canola and resistant weeds.
As well, some speculate that canola producers have pushed rotations as far as they can and that acreage is maxing out.
White doesn’t believe that to be the case because researchers are developing traits that could expand the boundaries for the crop.
Drought tolerant canola could pull it into southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta, and early maturing lines could push acres further north.
White said the Regina Plains area is a good example of what the future might hold.
“When I look back a decade, I never saw any yellow fields out there. This past summer — yellow fields everywhere.”
As well, he said the sky is the limit when it comes to yields. The canola council recently released its 2013 performance trial results, and it is hard to find a variety that isn’t in the 70 to 100 bushel per acre range across all three season zones.
White thinks that is the tip of the iceberg.
“I believe there is probably more yield that can be extracted with further hybridization in the future.”
He thinks canola yields will experience the same exponential growth curve as U.S. corn did following the introduction of hybrid lines in 1930.
THEN: Must abide by marketing rules
NAICAM, Sask. — Hon. Otto Lang, minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, had some hard things to say about the grain marketing situation, and also had some hopes and hints for the future as he spoke to about 250 farmers gathered at a meeting Dec. 22 sponsored by the Naicam and District Board of Trade.
He warned farmers that if they wanted orderly marketing they would have to obey the rules or suffer the penalties. He said those farmers who broke Canadian Wheat Board regulations by bootlegging wheat at fire sale prices, by falsifying permit books, using other farmers’ quotas or running a plow over barren land to inflate cultivated acreage figures or in any other way “were stealing money” from the rest who obeyed the rules.
THEN: Criticism of rapeseed marketing described by turner as ‘unfair’
REGINA — There is an apparent lack of understanding of regulations that govern the purchase and shipment of rapeseed and it needs to be corrected, according to E.K. Turner, president of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.
The Pool president noted that in recent weeks there has been criticism of the rapeseed marketing system. “Statements have been made which are misleading,” he contended. “If the facts were clear to everyone, it would be understood why the criticism is unfair.”
Mr. Turner said the basic point to remember is that rapeseed is defined as a grain under the Canadian Wheat Board Act. That being the case, its movement is subject to regulations enforced by the Canadian Wheat Board.
On Aug. 1, the Wheat Board issued instructions to all grain companies that there would be a five-bushel per seeded acre quota for rapeseed. It also said that producers could deliver the seed to any delivery point selected by them at which space for rapeseed was available.
With an estimated one million acres seeded in Saskatchewan, the quote provided about five million bushels for purchase by anyone properly licensed.
Download a PDF of the original WP page here: 1970_jan01_p01