Canola must improve meal quality to fend off soybeans

Canola’s best defence against the soybean onslaught might be its greatest weakness: its meal quality.

That’s because it has the most room to improve.

“We have to do more with the protein,” said Wilf Keller, president of Ag-West Bio, during an innovation panel discussion at the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention.

Canola’s protein value has “a lot more room” to be improved.

Dave Dzisiak, the new Canola Council chair and Dow AgroSciences grain and oilseed lead, said “there are still a lot of nasty things in canola” that could be eliminated through gene editing and other processes, unlocking a lot of value for a presently discounted product.

Better meal quality is necessary for canola’s long-term viability because farmers don’t have to grow canola, said Tom Greene of DuPont Pioneer.

“You really have to look at your competition and really think about growers and management practices that may or may not be there as growers have options to look at other crops,” said Greene.

“You have a crop (soybeans) that’s coming north that going to continue to gain from a yield standpoint (and improvements) that canola doesn’t have today.”

Canola’s meal discount is due to a combination of factors including high fibre and elements of its chemistry that makes it less valuable for most cattle and hog rations. It is highly valued by dairy producers for those same reasons, but that’s a much smaller market than the general feed market in North America or overseas.

With high oleic soybeans only a couple of years away, that crop has the ability to boost its oil value, possibly dragging down canola’s traditional premium and weakening the desire of farmers to grow the crop if soybeans are an option. 

But with the oilseed equation including both oil and meal value, boosting the meal value could recover some ground.

And continuing innovations are needed to ensure that canola keeps up with soybean advances, Greene said.

Canola already has a problem compared to soybeans because many farmers need to swath it, adding an extra step to the canola production process.

Dzisiak said he thinks gene editing could offer true meal quality solutions because “we know what these genes are” that are causing the problems, and perhaps scientists can “go and turn the things off.”

Keller said fundamental research on canola meal needs to be done.

“We have to invest in that area. I think that’s a key area that the federal government working with our prairie industry needs to look at,” Keller said.

“We need to push that very, very hard, probably a $100 million investment, to get the companies and the canola council working together.”

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