Great Northern Growers has decided to continue selling its controversial Clever herbicide, despite warnings from grain companies and crushers that they won’t buy canola sprayed with the product.
The active ingredient in Clever is quinclorac, which does not yet have a maximum residue limit in China.
The Canola Council of Canada is asking farmers not to use Clever, despite it being registered by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, because there is a risk that Canada’s top canola customer could reject a shipment if it detects quinclorac residue on the seed.
Sean Cooper, director of corporate development with Great Northern Growers, said the MRL issue is a red herring.
He said quinclorac is being singled out because China has MRLs for only six of the 53 pesticides registered for use on canola and has never rejected a shipment of canola over MRLs.
In fact, there are no MRLs in place for some of the main canola herbicides, including Roundup, Pursuit and Liberty.
Members of the elevators association and the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association will be asking growers to sign a declaration when they deliver their crop in the fall indicating that they have not applied Clever to their canola fields. Their canola will be rejected if they don’t check that box.
Patti Miller, president of the canola council, said farmers received plenty of advanced warning about the product this year.
Last year, the council and the grain companies were late getting the message out to farmers, many of whom had already sprayed their crops with Clever.
That is why grain companies reluctantly agreed to buy the crop at certain locations and keep it segregated so that it didn’t find its way to China. That won’t be the case in 2016-17.
“There is clarity this year,” said Miller. “If there was some confusion last year, there should be none this year.”
Miller said the council has not singled out quinclorac. It uses a complicated risk assessment model to determine which pesticides could pose an export risk.
The model uses factors such as the extent of residues, the concentration of residues and the amount of acres on which the product will be applied to determine the risk level.
Clever was identified as a high risk product. Other products not recommended for use are Ronilan, Venture L and Fusion.
Miller said there are many reasons why products have no MRLs. For instance, seed treatments leave no residue, so there is no need for an MRL.
She said the worst case scenario with quinclorac is that China could reject a shipment of canola for containing trace residues of the herbicide.
“It would cost an elevator or cost a processor a significant amount of money that would be felt back through to the farmer,” she said. “It would damage our reputation as a supplier of high quality products.”
Cooper said those types of warnings have scared off some farmers from buying Clever, but many others are being defiant. Sales of the product are quadruple what they were this time last year.
The company has already sold enough Clever to treat 300,000 to 350,000 acres, and the bulk of sales are likely yet to come in May and June.
The product is registered for use on canola, wheat, barley, mustard and canaryseed, but Cooper believes most growers will apply it to their canola fields.
He said Great Northern Growers has apprised growers of the stance taken by grain companies, crushers and the canola council, but farmers are buying the product anyway and will be applying it to their canola.
“They believe that the grain companies in the end are on the wrong side of this, and that they’re going to do the right thing,” said Cooper.
Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, said they are sadly mistaken. “If a farmer uses quinclorac on their canola, they will have difficulty finding a place that will accept it,” he said.
Cooper said the issue China has raised is dockage, not MRLs. The country has announced it is going to implement a new policy Sept. 1 requiring less than one percent dockage on canola shipments. Existing rules allow up to 2.5 percent.
Controlling cleavers would help reduce dockage because it is difficult and costly to clean out of canola.
Cleavers ranked seventh on Saskatchewan Agriculture’s recent top 10 weed list.