Whistle blown on canola danger

Creator of the crop says governments might have to force growers to adopt appropriate rotations

One of canola’s fathers thinks farmers might need to force their neighbours to stop over-growing canola.

And a leading canola developer thinks canola’s future could be grim if endemic problems aren’t controlled.

“If we abuse it, we’re going to lose it,” Garth Hodges, Bayer CropScience vice-president of marketing and business development, told the Canola Council of Canada convention March 8, referring to the few clubroot-resistant genes that researchers know about.

He said short rotations are weakening the crop’s ability to withstand pressure from clubroot, blackleg, weeds, pests and other challenges.

“How do we go back to some of the basics like saying we have to go into (good) crop rotation and be better at crop rotation?”

Keith Downey, one of the researchers who created canola, said he worries that the current three resistant genes “are not going to be enough,” and that new ones might not be found soon enough.

He suggested that existing legislation allowing municipalities to require adequate rotations could be used to stop some farmers from growing canola too often and creating the conditions for chronic clubroot infestation and other problems.

“I think that’s something that the people in this room have to take leadership of,” said Downey.

Municipal governments won’t push something controversial like that through unless worried farmers make it clear they need it to protect their farms.

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“They’re never going to impose it unless the people that are growing the crop say, ‘yes, this is a good idea,’ ” said Downey.

Thousands of farmers have been tightening rotations in recent years and canola production with two-year rotations are becoming common in some areas. Some farmers have even grown canola on canola.

Generally agronomists frown upon anything less than a one-in-three year rotation with many advocating for one-in-four, which was a longtime standard.

The intensive canola production was in response to higher margins for canola than most other crops. However, it has occurred at the same time as clubroot has spread and become a major worry for growers everywhere.

A number of early resistant varieties began to fail after the disease adapted to the extensively grown varieties. 

Hodges said he is concerned that many individual players in the canola industry understand the problem, but that collectively no one has yet taken control of it.

“There’s a time now where if we don’t get together and really focus on some of the basics of agronomy, I don’t know if we have canola to be able to be there,” said Hodges.

He said he might sound melodramatic, but the growing problems with many canola production challenges means the sustainability of the industry could be jeopardized.

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“How do we get the industry to self-regulate itself?” said Hodges.

He said creative ways could reward farmers who follow good rotations, such as a crop insurance discount.

He compared minor moves in tackling issues like clubroot, such as switching between resistant varieties of canola, to a smoker facing lung cancer deciding to switch cigarette brands.

He said he was also concerned that some growers assume that the industrial giants such as his company will simply develop new varieties and products that minimize the problem.

“It’s hard to invent new chemistry,” said Hodges.

As a result, the industry needs to find a way to collectively push for better rotations. That’s a challenge in an industry of strong but independent players.

“Are we pointing to each other as to who is the one who is responsible for making it sustainable?” said Hodges.

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  • richard

    The blind hubris of agribiz meets the brick wall of natural law….. comical if it werent so serious….. And as per usual, no solution but more of the same….. monocultural, monolithic, monotonous answers to complex ecological issues…. Ask your neighbour to do the right thing???? Have we turned into gerbils?

    • ed

      Give the engine on you lawn mower a good “healthy” kick and yank that pull start again to see if that will do it this time. We are in bad shape and it will take a lot smarter people to get us out of this hugh mess than the ones that got us into it.

      • Harold

        We all sit back in all hopelessness and await the arrival of some messiah that we can all elect to clean up our huge mess.
        We are the ones that we have been waiting for, but socially engendered to be divisive. Right now Canadian’s can’t agree upon anything due to the facts that are hidden in secrecy. We are the ones that we are waiting for to unlock those doors of secrecy. Canadians will become united when fact replaces fiction. There is always failure when fact is stranger than fiction. No complaint: no foul. There is no politician in Canada, that I am aware of, who fears a public reaction during their four year term. It is rather a vacation period for them after the election. Alberta politicians experienced a Carbon Tax protest, but they knew it would only be a minor event and then it go away as it did. The protesters did not have the facts on how to protest. (engineered fiction)

  • ed

    Yes!

  • Concerned farmer

    I agree dude . … But they sensor these comments , so maybe we are in a communist regime already !!

    • To be clear, I edit (not censor) these comments to remove foul language and potentially libelous material – you can’t call someone a “thief,” for example.

      I try to retain the gist of the comment, but if you’re swearing up a storm I simply delete it.

      Please feel free to ask away if you have any other questions about how I go about moderating the comments in this forum!

      Cheers,
      Paul – WP web editor

      • old grouchy

        If we define a ‘thief’ as some entity, sometimes a person or persons, who takes what has been not theirs by any means (which could include those deemed illegal or even those condoned by law) then we do have one entity that has indulged himself in this pastime from time past and today makes great sport of determining exactly how many feather that he can remove from the goose without killing the goose. Although the goose is occasionally killed enough survive to create the illusion that the goose is free. The entity that I refer to as this ‘master’ thief is none other than big brother – – – very much alive and well in this year 2017 (one might have thought that as his career was well engaged in ‘1984’ (by the way not the original title of that opus) that he might have relinquished his place at the deep end of the trough! (‘Long live the pigs – – – we are all equal but some of us are more equal than the others! (A mild paraphrase from that delicious expose called ‘Animal Farm.))
        So perhaps you will censor this comment – – – – that doesn’t remove its truth nor the need to promulgate it. But then that is entirely up to ‘The Producer’s) version of ‘Big Brother’.

    • old grouchy

      We have been in a controlled regime for a long time brother. Big brother is just more brazen now!

  • Harold

    It is written that if you wish to control nature; you must obey it.