Hybrid mustard will provide advantage

The first hybrid brown mustard should be available in limited quantities for Canadian farmers next year with a significant acreage available in 2020. In following years, if all goes well, a type of quasi hybrid could be available in the yellow mustard class, as could hybrid oriental mustard.

As someone who works on contract for the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission (Sask Mustard), I’m no doubt a bit biased, but I see this as a huge win for the industry.

Skeptics will worry about the cost because with hybrids you need to buy new seed each year. Others will point out that mustard consumption is limited, so producing more per acre means you’ll need fewer acres.

Those are legitimate concerns, but here’s why the positives greatly outweigh the drawbacks in this situation.

First, a bit of background. The hybrid mustard is coming from the breeding program of Bifang Cheng, the condiment mustard breeder with Agriculture Canada in Saskatoon. Her work is supported by Mustard 21 Canada Inc., a collaboration between Sask Mustard and the Canadian Mustard Association, which represents buyers and end users.

So this is a Canadian crop breeding success story supported by government, producers and industry. Mustard 21 will be leading the commercialization, and the intent is to make sure this remains a strong value proposition for growers.

With male and female and restorer lines, producing hybrid seed is certainly much more expensive than open pollinated seed, but there are Canadian companies specializing in this sort of production with irrigated sites in Western Canada and winter nurseries in Chile.

Cheng plans to seek support for registering the first brown hybrid at the variety meetings at the end of February. Her test data is pointing to a yield increase of much more than 20 percent as compared to the check variety.

With that sort of a yield increase, producers will be able to pay the extra cost for seed and still have significantly higher revenue. Based on what has happened with other crops, hybrid mustard should also be more responsive to fertilizer and it should more vigorously compete with weeds.

The main market for brown is Europe, where it’s used to produce Dijon mustard.

Oriental mustard goes mainly to Asian nations, which value its hot flavour.

Yellow mustard is grown in southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. It’s the traditional hotdog mustard, and the United States is the main market.

Total acreage of the three typically ranges from 350,000 to 500,000 depending on the year, with yellow being the largest. Canada is the world’s dominant exporter of all three types.

At first glance, one might question the wisdom of higher yielding varieties. Why not let the yields remain low and keep the price up, considering Canada is the dominant exporter?

It’s because farmers in other regions become increasingly interested in mustard production as prices rise. Product from competing nations is already capturing an increasing portion of the European market.

And it’s quite likely they’re using our own Canadian varieties to steal markets. A farmer in Poland or Russia just has to obtain some of the mustard intended for processing and use it as seed.

This isn’t supposed to happen under international law, but how do you stop it?

Hybrid varieties will change the game. They are only useful as seed for the first generation. Therefore, hybrid mustard should give Canadian farmers a competitive advantage that’s sustainable.

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