Organic wheat commands premium prices over conventional

Organic wheat is selling for 500 percent higher than conventional wheat and there is no indication it will drop soon.

Jay Crandall, a grain commodity merchant with Wetaskiwin Co-op, said the little organic wheat that is available is selling into the milling market for $20 a bushel, or $735 per tonne.

This year, organic feed wheat is selling for $16.50 per bu., or $610 a tonne, if it is available, compared to $585 a tonne last year.

At the same time, conventional feed wheat is selling for $4 per bu., or $147 per tonne last year.

“The spread is very extreme this year,” said Crandall, who finds organic wheat for his customers.

“The wheat market is very short.”

Wheat is the main feed in organic poultry rations.

Crandall said increases in organic oat and barley prices are not as extreme but show no sign of following conventional prices’ downward slide.

Organic barley is selling for $8.50 per bu., or $390 per tonne, compared to $2.70 per bu., or $124 per tonne, for conventional barley.

Organic oats are $6.50 per bu., or $420 per tonne, compared to $2.50 per bu., or $162 per tonne for conventional oats.

“There are very extreme price differences this year,” said Crandall.

The price of organic soybeans imported from the United States hasn’t dropped from last year, nor has organic flax cake.

Crandall expects barley prices to soften over the next few months when farmers start to sell their grain, but he believes wheat prices will stay high.

He attributes the high price of wheat to two main factors:

  • Last year’s cold, wet spring made it almost impossible for organic farmers to plant wheat, forcing them to switch to shorter season crops.
  • Many farmers who still have wheat in their bins were reluctant to sell it before the end of the year because they want to spread out their income after high grain prices last year.

Wade Hoculak, an organic farmer from Star, Alta., and president of the Alberta Organic Producers Association (AOPA), said he was ready to seed 300 to 400 acres of wheat last year, but the wet spring forced him to change his plans. Organic farmers missed their seeding window because they needed to till their fields several times to control weeds, he added.

“Not all organic producers are reaping the rewards,” he said.

“$20 a bu. wheat is an anomaly. That typically isn’t going to last.”

Hoculak added that the dwindling number of organic farmers will affect the amount of organic grain available in Alberta. AOPA has 90 to 95 members.

“A lot of organic farmers are retiring,” he said.

Crandall said organic wheat producers won’t sell him grain for $12 to $13 per bu., a price he thinks is fair.

“No one is willing to sell at those prices.”

Ron Hamilton of Sunworks Farms raises organic beef, chicken, pigs and laying hens near Armena. He is concerned what the high cost of feed will mean for his bottom line.

“It’s good for grain farmers,” said Hamilton, who paid $660 per tonne for 10 percent protein wheat for his last load of organic feed wheat.

“The feed costs are almost to 50 percent of the cost of raising the animals.”

Recent high prices for conventional grain enticed many organic producers to return to growing conventional crops with fewer rules and regulations.

He said he has started to work with conventional farmers to grow organic grain on one or two quarters.

He also works with conventional farmers to switch hay fields into organic grain production. Grain from that land can be sold as organic if the field has not had added fertilizer or pesticide for three years and the conventional farmer is mentored by an organic farmer.

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