BLOG: Education not enough to encourage longer canola rotations

Last fall my eight-year-old daughter told me a story.

It may be true, or partially true.

We were walking to her school and she said the police were outside her school the day before.

They entered a house across the road from the school, then brought out a man in handcuffs.

Based on playground gossip, the police arrested the man for driving while drinking a beer and texting.

I’m guessing that’s not the real reason the police dragged him out of the house in handcuffs, but my daughter believes it’s true.

It doesn’t really matter who’s right.

What’s more interesting is my daughter knows that texting and drinking, while driving, is a bad idea. And it’s reasonable to penalize somebody who does it.

For whatever reason, some folks in Canada’s canola industry aren’t willing to take a similar stance on seeding canola back to back.

Clubroot, a soil borne disease, is spreading across Saskatchewan’s northern grain belt, is established in Manitoba and has been in Alberta for 15 years.

The disease may be the biggest threat to Canada’s $30 billion canola industry, as it’s nearly impossible to get rid of clubroot spores once they’re in the soil.

More importantly, the disease reduces canola yield and if clubroot spores become too numerous in the soil, it may become impossible to grow canola on that field.

Keith Downey, the father of canola, and Garth Hodges, an executive with Bayer CropScience, are concerned about tight canola rotations and clubroot. At a Canola Council of Canada meeting they said current practices may not be sustainable. They urged growers to adjust their behaviour and take longer breaks between growing canola.

Experts know a two-year break from growing canola can slow the spread of the disease and limit its damage.

Those same experts know that seeding canola consecutively can dramatically increase the number of clubroot spores in the soil, threatening the productivity of that field and increasing the risk of disease spread to nearby farms.

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities has passed resolutions, in 2018 and six years ago, saying producers who grow canola consecutively should not be eligible for crop insurance.

SARM believes the system needs to penalize irresponsible behavior.

However, SaskCanola and the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. do not.

“We agree with industry groups, such as SaskCanola, the best route at this time is the continued focus on education and awareness of clubroot,” SCIC said in an email to The Western Producer.

A number of growers, including Ian Boxall of Tisdale, Sask., think a focus on ‘education and awareness’ is absurd.

That’s because growing back-to-back canola is reckless and growers already know that.

“Producers know what is right,” Boxall said. “The only way to make a farmer change is probably money.”

SCIC, to its credit, listens to the agricultural sector. If the canola industry wanted a crop insurance stick, or a crop insurance carrot to encourage longer rotations, SCIC would take action.

But leaders of provincial canola groups aren’t pushing for a stick, to discourage the growing of back-to-back canola. It’s not clear why, but it could be a distaste for regulations and penalties.

The same could be said for most Canadians.

Few people want to pay a $200 fine for not wearing a seatbelt while on a two-minute drive to the convenience store.

No one wants to pay a $500 fine for making a 30 second phone call, while they drive their child to hockey practice.

But penalties and fines exist for a reason.

Some people will continue to text and drive, even if they watch 400 TV commercials where a teenager is texting and then drives over a cliff.

Education and awareness have limits.

When it comes to canola rotations, education and awareness probably hit a limit… about four years ago.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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