Jacking-up canola yields to 52 bushels an acre and 26 million tonnes in Canada annually by 2025 is a daunting goal, requiring a lot of things to go right.
Yesterday each of the speakers at the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention here in Banff gave their two-cents on what they think it will require to get to 52 and 26. Most seemed confident it can be done and felt present growth trends can continue. One seemed very pessimistic – and his pessimism was a worrying concern that all Prairie crop production could begin to get very cramped in coming years if something doesn’t change.
Here are some of the main points from the four speakers who touched on the 52 bushel goal:
J.P. Gervais – Farm Credit Canada
It’s certainly possible to get to the 52 bushel and/or 26 million tonne goal, economist J.P. Gervais of Farm Credit Canada said. But it will take a lot of focused effort and it won’t be an easy target to hit.
His analysis team charted canola yield gains back to 1971 and found the present growth curve suggests canola yields are likely to be around 44 bushels per acre by 2025. That’s a big gap and won’t produce anything near 26 million tonnes.
However, if the growth rate and the increase in the growth rate has a mid-2000s starting point, the 52 bushel goal seems more possible. Yield gains have been much greater in recent years so perhaps the long term growth rate isn’t the one to look at.
“The pace of growth is really, really, really critical,” said Gervais.
“I think there’s a really good chance to get to the yield target.”
It is also possible to hit the 26 million tonne goal by 2025 without reaching 52 bushels per acre – by adding more acres. That brings agronomic challenges with much increased disease risk, but on a basis of pure economics, if farmers continue to see generally better returns on canola than most other crops, then a few million more acres could be dragged into canola production and compensate for sub-52 bushel yields. While increasing acreage like that is not in the CCC’s plan, Gervais said acreage based on returns suggests it’s possible.
I interviewed Gervais after his speech and here’s what he told me:
Terry Youzwa – Chair of Canola Council of Canada
Terry Youzwa, a Saskatchewan farmer and chair of the CCC, used his bully pulpit at the beginning to the conference to remind the canola industry that making farmers want to grow lots of canola is the key to getting gains in production.
“It starts with enticing the grower to plant the crop,” said Youzwa.
To reach its goals, the industry has to continue to build on its three long-time foci: stable supply; differentiated demand; open trade.
Futurist Jack Uldrich
A combination of robotics, nanotechnology, faster computer processing and much more electronic integration is probably going to sweep through agriculture soon and revolutionize and improve production, according to futurist Jack Uldrich.
“It’s coming really fast,” said Uldrich.
“Your goal of getting to 52 bushels per acre is well within the reach of possibility and I suspect you might even far surpass it. But you are the ones who have to create the future. But the tools exist and those of you who do that are going to have a continued successful future.”
Here’s a video interview I did with Uldrich after his speech:
Paul Ferley – assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada
Paul Ferley, the assistant chief economist for RBC, said boosting Canadian productivity is vitally important to future economic growth.
“This is critically important for the Canadian economy,” said Ferley.
“We’re a high cost nation.”
That essentially means creating more output with the same input of labour, capital and resources, and that kind of increased productivity is what the CCC’s 2025 goals are attempting to do. Applying technology is central to increasing productivity.
Ferley said agriculture needs to “encourage any initiative to try to raise productivity in the sector. Critical for the Canadian economy.”
Stephen Blank – North American transportation infrastructure analyst
While most of Tuesday’s speakers were confident and encouraging about the CCC reaching its goals of having farmers produce 26 million tonnes of canola per year by 2025, long-time North American infrastructure investment expert Stephen Blank sounded profoundly pessimistic – but it had nothing to do with canola.
For Blank, all exporters including the canola industry are facing a grim future in which decades of underinvestment in transportation infrastructure, with a worsening of the situation since 2008, come home to roost. Decaying capacity and integrity of rail, trucking, waterway and port facilities is going to crash into the goal of many industries like Canada’s canola industry to substantially boost exports in coming years. How can much more be exported out of a system that is already creaking and failing to provide adequate service for today’s needs?
“We have a great rail system for the 20th century,” said Blank. But for the 21st century it’s sadly inadequate.
Most worrying for Blank is that transportation investment has degenerated into a polarized issue where developing a consensus or direction on how to begin rebuilding systems seems harder than ever.
“The politicization of these issues . . . deeply intensifies the uncertainty with which we will be dealing,” said Blank.
“I’m worried as hell. I don’t see an easy light at the end of the tunnel.”
Blank said there is no consensus on: 1) who decides what should be done; 2) who will do whatever is decided needs to be done; 3) who pays for it?
He urged the CCC to pressure governments and others to begin to tackle the chronic infrastructure underinvestment problem or meeting lofty production goals will be difficult.
“How can the council leverage rising global levels of demand for canola to improve freight transportation infrastructure?”