Grain companies are devising marketing solutions for canola treated with quinclorac and trying to keep it out of shipments destined for China and Japan.
Quinclorac is the active ingredient in Clever, a herbicide to control cleavers that was sold by Great Northern Growers this spring and applied on up to 1.2 percent of Canada’s canola.
The company received Pest Management Regulatory Agency approval for the product May 29 and decided to sell it to growers despite the lack of established maximum residue limits (MRLs) in China and Japan, Canada’s two biggest export markets.
Grain companies initially said they would not accept quinclorac- treated canola but have since softened their stance because some of their biggest and longest standing farmer customers used the product.
“Some companies decided they would try and work with those farmer customers to find outlets for it,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association.
He said segregation programs are not industry-wide; they are only occurring with certain companies at certain locations.
“I continue to hear about farmers and get calls from farmers who are unable to deliver quinclorac-treated canola,” he said.
The segregated product is sold to markets where MRLs are in place: Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Sean Cooper, head of corporate development with Great Northern Growers, is pleased that many farmers are able to sell their quinclorac-treated canola.
He believes a similar system should be implemented next year so that growers can boost yields by controlling cleavers in their fields while still having a market for their crops.
“It may be difficult, but it’s far from impossible and it’s clearly being done already,” said Cooper.
However, grain companies and the Canola Council of Canada do not want Clever or any other quinclorac product on the market until MRLs are in place in all key export markets.
The council had asked Great Northern Growers not to commercialize the product this year.
It says responsible introduction of pesticides is crucial to maintaining an efficient grain handling and transportation system, while segregation and testing bogs down the system and adds unnecessary costs.
“Very soon you’ve got an inefficient and very expensive canola industry,” said council president Patti Miller.
However, the real big threat is what happens if quinclorac-treated canola gets onto a shipment to Japan or China and is found to exceed their tolerance levels.
That would require rerouting a 60,000 tonne vessel containing $33.5 million of canola to another market and damage Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of canola.
“That’s why we get so excited,” said Miller.
China has a zero tolerance policy, while Japan’s fall-back position until its MRL is established is 10 parts per billion.
Japan is expected to implement a two parts per million MRL by the end of February.
Miller said China’s process for establishing MRLs is confusing and unpredictable.
Sobkowich said China is working through Codex, which is expected to take another two to three years.
He said there is something wrong when a company like Great Northern Grain rushes a product to market but does not bear any of the risks or costs associated with its actions.
“That’s part of the problem that we see here is that he who stands to benefit should be he who bears the risk,” said Sobkowich.
Cooper said cleavers are a problem on 10 million acres of canola, yet grain companies would rather wait another three years than implement an identity preservation system for quinclorac-treated canola.
“I think these grain companies would do best to find a solution instead of saying, ‘wait, wait, wait.’ ”
Cooper said tests conducted by Great Northern Grain, the Canadian Grain Commission and grain companies show that the vast majority of quinclorac-treated canola is below Japan’s limit of 10 parts per billion.
Miller said the test results have a lot of variability because there are cleaver hot spots where more of the product was applied.
“I wouldn’t be able to say uniformly that it’s meeting the limits. There are some areas where there are some issues,” she said.
Cooper said canola that has tested marginally higher than the limit can be blended so that it meets the tolerance levels.
He said Japan could become a premium market for quinclorac-treated canola once MRLs are in place because it is a quality conscious market that may pay extra for weed-free canola shipments.
Great Northern Grain is still undecided on whether it will sell Clever for canola next year.
“We would certainly like to sell it, mainly because there is a demand for it,” said Cooper.
However, the company will have second thoughts if grain companies once again insist they are not going to accept delivery of quinclorac-treated canola.
“We’re not going to put producers in the position where they’ll have to do what they did this year and be at risk,” he said.