Canola growers still simmering over quinclorac

Producer accuses commodity groups of lack of support when grain companies threatened to ban crops grown with registered herbicide

Canola groups faced questions last week at the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission’s annual meeting over its handling of the quinclorac situation.

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 that stance.

Corey Loessin, a grower from Radisson, Sask., said the first hint that something was wrong came June 26 when the council posted a document on its website warning growers not to use the product.

That was after many growers had already applied the herbicide on their fields.

“It’s one of those situations where farmers were put in a very difficult position,” he said.

“It’s not like we were doing anything illegal. It was a registered product.”

Loessin said he didn’t want to dwell on the past but wanted answers from SaskCanola and the Canola Council of Canada about what they’re doing to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

“That’s a portion of what we expect our levy dollars to do is keep us up-to-date on the major market requirements and needs,” he said.

Patti Miller, president of the Canola Council of Canada, said the council has a longstanding policy of responsible commercialization, which means making sure MRLs are in place in key export markets before commercializing a pesticide.

She said two other companies have registered quinclorac based products in Canada but have not commercialized them because of the MRL issue.

“We had talked to (Great Northern Growers) about our policy, but the decision they made was to sell the product,” said Miller.

She said the timing of the registration made it difficult for the council to provide growers with a timely warning, but she has one for them for the upcoming crop year.

“We are advising producers not to use quinclorac in 2016. We still have an issue with our major market in China in that it doesn’t have MRLs,” she said.

“We recognize that’s not great news for producers who have cleavers on their farms, but we can’t put one of our major markets at risk.”

SaskCanola chair Dale Leftwich said the incident exposed communication problems in the canola industry and made clear who needs to be the association’s top priority.

“We’re going to make sure that the farmer voice is heard,” he told growers attending the meeting.

“We’re working for you guys.”

Loessin said in an interview following the meeting that is what he wanted to hear from the association because farmers are the ones funding the group.

He thinks grain companies and crushers exert too much influence around board tables. The focus of the associations seems to be all about trade.

“We have to maintain a balance between protecting markets and giving growers access to new tools,” said Loessin.

At a bare minimum, he added, the organizations should have issued warnings about using quinclorac long before it was applied and fought the grain companies when they said they wouldn’t buy crop treated with the product.

“In a situation where farmers are doing things right, then the organizations have to stand by them,” he said.

Loessin said it isn’t fair that the council appears to be deflecting all the blame toward Great Northern Growers.

“I don’t think it’s responsible to just say they shouldn’t have done that because they’re filling a need.”

Leftwich said the incident prompted changes at SaskCanola.

“We’re not talking about a complete new system from what we currently have, but we are talking about making sure that everyone is well aware of what the ramifications are of this and that we talk to each other directly and not through the pages of The Western Producer,” he said.

SaskCanola is continuing to work with grain companies to ensure that quinclorac-treated product finds a home in markets like the United States.

“They are trying to ensure that it gets off of farms, but this is not an easy thing and it’s not a quick thing and it’s not something that is happening without a great deal of labour involved,” said Leftwich.

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