Grain Millers Inc. firm on glyphosate-treated oats ban

Grain Millers Inc. is standing by its decision to avoid buying western Canadian oats that have been sprayed with pre-harvest glypho-sate.

Procurement manager Terry Tyson told growers in Saskatoon that it will buy only oats that have been allowed to mature naturally, either standing or in the swath.

Tyson said use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest management product disrupts the natural maturation process and negatively affects starch development, resulting in lower quality flakes and flour.

“Last summer, in 2015, we introduced our new policy on the use of pre-harvest glyphosate, in effect banning that practice, (but) we had already taken a large position in the new crop market by that time so we are (phasing in the) policy this year,” Tyson said

All Canadian growers selling oats to the company are required to sign an affidavit that prohibits pre-harvest glyphosate.

Grain Millers is headquartered in Minnesota but buys Canadian oats grown primarily in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It takes deliveries at a collection facility in Yorkton, Sask.

The company’s decision caught many growers off guard last year and some producers looked elsewhere to sell their oats.

“Suffice to say that there was a fair bit of controversy over that policy, and maybe more than we had anticipated,” he told the Saskatchewan Oat Development Commission’s annual meeting at CropSphere in Saskatoon.

Tyson emphasized that Grain Millers’ decision to avoid glyphosate-treated oats had nothing to do with health issues or food safety concerns.

“Our policy is about functional performance.”

Tyler said Grain Millers began to notice quality issues in its processed oat products four or five years ago.

The company first scrutinized its processing systems and then be-gan to look at external factors such varietal characteristics, fungicide use and chemical applications.

It eventually identified a correlation between poor flake and flour quality and the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest management tool.

The correlation was subsequently supported by laboratory analysis of starch quality.

“The early use of glyphosate as a desiccant really doesn’t allow the plant to mature,” Tyson said.

“It kills the oat plant, and the results are comparable to an early freeze.

“It doesn’t continue to mature like it would in the swath. That prevents the starch … from maturing, and immature starch makes poor quality flakes and flour.”

Practices that affect maturation hurt beta glucan production, a key nutritional attribute to the industry’s health claim linking oat consumption to heart and cardiovascular health.

Willie Zuchkan, an oat grower from east-central Saskatchewan and former chair of SaskOats, said the loss of glyphosate as a pre-harvest management tool will present a challenge.

“It’s going to be an adjustment because glyphosate was very valuable for weed control,” Zuchkan said.

“But if it’s causing a problem at Grain Millers, then I guess we’ll have to swath the crop versus trying to desiccate and straight cut it, or we’ll have to wait for it to be dead ripe and then straight cut it.”

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