Market access continuing problem for canola industry

Farmers like to have excuses to head down south to warmer climes in the winter. Heck, almost all Canadians do.

That’s the driving force behind holding all sorts of North American winter agriculture conferences in resort locations in the southern third of the United States every year, including that of the Canola Council of Canada, which I just covered in Palm Springs, California, last week.

Of course, the canola council had a good excuse for holding their conference in California: it’s a big canola meal consumer.

OK, nobody really buys this excuse, but I suppose you’ve got to have one because some people are going to complain about not holding it somewhere like Yorkton, Sask.

However, it’s a better excuse than you might think, especially in these times of intense trade tension — getting your body and brain out of Western Canada to focus on world market issues makes a lot of sense.

The Prairies are a big but isolated place in a world market that appears to be getting less and less friendly these days.

There’s a cold wind blowing through international trade right now, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to break Canada’s access to its market for various products. That could hit agriculture sometime, and the uncertainty his unpredictable belligerence creates is its own weapon because it makes farmers and others up here reluctant to invest in their operations if they rely on the U.S. market.

Canada has a free trade deal with the European Union, but we’re not hearing a lot about it. That’s probably because doing agriculture-related business with Fortress Europe is technically easier than it was before the deal, but few truly expect much to change with the protectionist bloc.

China’s always a vexatious place to do business, and we saw that in the past year, where it appeared to take intervention by the prime minister to get Canadian canola treated somewhat more equitably by the Chinese government.

Canada is utterly reliant on world markets, and that means relying upon hundreds of markets, any of which could blow up at any time. There’s really only one response, and that’s to diligently chip away at access problems all over the world.

Canada’s new crop missions do that every fall, hitting all our most significant markets and keeping customers informed and (hopefully) happy with what they’re getting from Canadian farmers.

The canola council does the same with canola specific opportunities and issues, especially right now in China and the U.S. Midwest, where canola meal might find much bigger markets.

The mood at the canola council convention was subdued compared to some years with headwinds seeming to hit the industry — and the organization itself — and challenging its recent meteoric rise.

However, that’s when marketing edges pay off, in the bad times, when markets are glutted and trade barriers are beginning to spring up.

It was sunny down in Palm Springs, but the mood in world markets is more like a lingering Canadian winter, and it’s good to think about those trying to find some warmth out there in a not always friendly world market.

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