Although Clever has approval for use on canola, Japan has not established residue limits for quinclorac
The Canola Council of Canada is under attack for its handling of a generic herbicide used to control cleavers.
“There is something wrong with the leadership of the canola council,” said Franck Groeneweg, past chair of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission.
He accused the council of mishandling a situation involving a product called Clever, which received Pest Management Regulatory Agency approval for use on canola May 29.
Great Northern Growers, the distributor of Clever, sold it to farmers who sprayed it on their crops to control cleavers, which have become a major weed problem.
On June 26, the canola council posted a document on its website warning growers not to use the product because maximum residue limits (MRLs) for the active ingredient quinclorac have not been established in Japan, a key export market.
On the same day, Cargill issued a news release saying it would reject deliveries of canola treated with quinclorac. All the other major grain companies and crushers are taking the same stance.
Groeneweg said the council has known about the product for more than a year but failed to help pave the way for introduction of an affordable solution to a growing weed epidemic that affects growers but is also a headache for crushers.
“Why doesn’t canola council help (farmers) to fix these issues and work as a trade organization to facilitate MRLs in other countries well ahead of time?”
Groeneweg thinks the council should have taken steps years ago to help find an affordable solution to controlling cleavers. He raised the issue numerous times during his tenure on the board of SaskCanola.
Council president Patti Miller said the council has a role in identifying priorities for university, government and private company researchers, but that is the extent of its involvement.
“It is the companies themselves that develop products, it is not the canola council,” she said.
“So we can’t force people to develop products, we can only point to the need.”
Groeneweg also asked why the council waited until growers had applied Clever to their crops before issuing a warning about the product and why the warning was hidden deep in its website rather than communicated openly through a news release.
Miller said council representatives met with Great Northern Growers months ago in an attempt to discourage the company from commercializing the product.
“We were hoping that they would hold back on the release of the product until the MRL was established,” she said.
“We didn’t want to send out press releases and bulletins all across Western Canada because you would be drawing a lot of attention to the issue and you would be raising concerns in Japan when potentially there weren’t going to be any.”
Groeneweg feels there is another force at work: that the council is kowtowing to pressure from corporate funders.
He said it isn’t the first time, noting that in its vision document for 2025 the council changed its long-running stance of advocating a one-in-four year rotation, saying instead that intensive rotations can be managed sustainably in many soil zones.
“It appears that within the last few years the current leadership has made a mess of a few farmers’ issuees.”
Great Northern Growers is also irate with the council. It has issued letters and news releases accusing the council of nepotism and Cargill of bullying tactics designed to protect its crop input business.
In a letter to its customers, Great Northern said the introduction of Clever poses a threat to traditional input sales and distribution systems because it is delivered directly to farmers at a low cost.
“It is easy to understand why so many of the industry majors are pushing back against a product and a model that threatens their profitability,” said Great Northern Growers in a letter dated July 3.
“We understand that as an industry association, the council is motivated to represent the best interests of its top corporate funders, but it shouldn’t be doing so at the expense of growers.”
Miller said accusations that the council is being unduly influenced by seed technology and grain companies are false.
“Producers were our top funders this past year,” she said.
The council’s board of directors includes representatives from three provincial grower groups and the national grower group.
She said it is unfortunate that some farmers will have a challenge marketing their crops, but the council will be working on solutions.
Miller said she hopes that Japan will have MRLs in place for quinclorac by early next year.
In the meantime, it is going to be difficult to market any quinclorac treated canola, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association.
“Every member of the WGEA will not be accepting canola treated with quinclorac,” he said.
Growers will be asked to declare whether they sprayed their crops with quinclorac on producer declaration forms they sign before delivering this year’s canola crops.
Farmers found to have misrepresented their use of quinclorac will be liable for all costs associated with the delivery.
Sobkowich said the grain elevators and crushers he represents are not willing to lose a $1.2 billion canola market and one of Canada’s oldest and most reliable customers.
Sean Cooper, head of corporate development with Great Northern Growers, said the company sought a registration for Clever on canola at the behest of the council.
The product was registered for cereals last year, and the council was worried growers would be using it off label on canola.
“There was ample time to get that message out prior to the spraying season. Their timing was terrible.”
Cooper said it is odd that the council and grain companies are taking such a strident stance on Clever when there are many examples of herbicides that hit the market before MRLs are fully established in export markets.
Cooper wonders why grain companies can’t move the quinclorac treated canola to markets where there are MRLs in place, such as the United States, the European Union and Australia.
He said the company sold enough Clever to treat 1.5 percent of Canada’s canola acres, but the penetration will be far less than that because much of the product would have been applied to cereal crops.
As a result, there would not be a lot of crop to segregate.
“The responsible thing is to create a program for farmers to be able to deliver,” he said.
Sobkowich acknowledged there are precedents. Wheat treated with the plant growth regulator Manipulator is accepted but kept out of the U.S. marketplace, where there are no MRLs for chlormequat, the active ingredient in Manipulator.
Grain companies felt the risk was acceptable in that case and in others, but they don’t feel that way about Clever.
“Japan is a major customer and it’s simply not worth the risk,” he said.
Sobkowich said changes are required in the way pesticides are registered to avoid cases such Clever and Manipulator.