Canola growers have a lot of different options each year. One option is to sign a contract to grow a specialty canola variety. What do farmers consider when they make that decision?
Two prairie growers share their experiences with Nexera canola and their thoughts on growing canola in general.
More than a commodity
Renn Breitkreuz, a grain farmer near Onoway, Alta., likes the idea of growing a crop that has some differentiation from a pure commodity crop. “The guys contracting Nexera see a value in the crop. They are willing to pay extra and that value flows down the chain so that growers are receiving a bit of a premium,” says Breitkreuz.
His first year growing Nexera was 2016 and so far he’s quite happy with the crop and the process. “I’ve delivered part of my canola and have some later delivery windows but I’m happy with how it works,” he says. He has contracted again for 2017 and will likely have about 25 per cent of his canola in Nexera.
“I was happy with a local guy last year but he sold out his contracts in August or September for 2017, which was too early for me to commit to. So I’m with another contractor this year,” says Breitkreuz.
Brietkreuz has grown canola in his rotation for years and calls it a mainstay of the business on their family farm. “We’ve been here since the ‘30s and we have probably grown rapeseed and then canola since the ‘80s. It seems to be a crop with a strong and growing demand where movement and pricing opportunities are always good.”
Premium and relationship with the contractor key
When asked why he switched to Nexera canola after decades of growing rapeseed and canola on the family farm, Brett Halsted from Nokomis, Sask., said it was the premium that interested him the most. “I knew there was a chance that some varieties might not yield as well, but I wanted to try and manage that and capitalize on the better return per acre,” says Halsted.
After growing Nexera canola from 2012 to 2014, he took a break for two years and is now adding Nexera back into the rotation this season.
Halstead, a board member of the Canadian Canola Council, acknowledges his role in vetting contracts and contractors before committing. “My responsibility is to do a better job of understanding what all of my options are and making a better choice. Make sure you understand what you are contracting. Know what the limitations are for delivery, pricing and premiums, to reduce the likelihood of surprises,” he says.
Breitkreuz says it’s important to crunch the numbers for your operation. “It might not be a fit for every farm, or a fit for every field on every farm, but it’s worth a shot if it fits part of your production,” he says.
He also said he tends to spread the risk by growing a few different canola varieties. “It was a leap of faith committing myself to one company (for the contracted portion) but so far it has been good.”
Like Halstead, Breitkreuz adds there is more than the premium to consider when deciding on growing Nexera canola. “There is the dollars and cents portion but you need to include the people aspect when you are making the decision. The relationship you have with the contractor is an important part.”
Opportunities for healthy oil and meal
Both farmers see the future holding positive things for what they consider the healthiest vegetable oil. “The focus of market development must be the emerging middle class. They’re no longer eating just to sustain themselves but they are looking for healthy choices,” says Halstead.
Additionally, the canola meal from Nexera continues to find markets. “Canola meal is proven in dairy rations and Dow has developed a high protein meal so there are more opportunities coming,” says Halstead.
“Vegetable oil consumption continues to increase and canola oil is the best oil in the world – in my humble opinion,” says Breitkreuz. But with increasing demand for the specialty oil, another concern arises. “I do wonder if the premium will erode over time as the market matures. I hope that’s not the case. I’m going to ride the wave while it’s there,” he says.
Both growers expressed concerns about tightening rotations that are the result of improved technology, higher yields and better prices. They both feel there is a lack of other strong crops to add to the rotation. “Canola is so widely grown across the prairies, we’re seeing increased pest pressure (weed and disease). The best tool to manage this is crop rotation but I’m still searching for a good third crop to include in my rotation,” says Breitkreuz.
Halstead has watched technical improvements make a difference on his farm and the challenges they have also brought. “We’ve gone from tillage to direct seeding, reduced the amount of fuel we use and increased the organic matter in the soil. Many of these things have permitted tighter rotations. We’re now seeing increased issues with disease, not only in canola. And some weed issues too.
“But canola does so well, consistently. Other crops aren’t always as reliable,” says Halstead.
Which is one reason why he’s adding Nexera canola into the rotation again.