Million acres expected as China approves Truflex

Canola growers are finally going to see how the next generation of the Roundup Ready trait performs.

Bayer’s TruFlex canola received regulatory approval from China last week after six years in the system.

Based on early orders and seed production, the company anticipates about one million acres of canola containing the trait will be planted in Canada in 2019.

“It’s not going to be a massive launch,” said Bayer Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan.

Dekalb will be marketing two new TruFlex hybrids this spring, one straight-cut option and one with clubroot resistance. Bayer also plans to license the new trait.

“A couple of licensees committed to incorporating the TruFlex trait into their seed brands,” she said.

Those licensees are Canterra Seeds and Nutrien. Jordan expects more to follow.

Eventually, Bayer intends to switch over all its Roundup Ready canola lines to the TruFlex trait.

China also approved BASF’s RF3 trait, a standalone version of the Liberty Link trait that had previously been approved by China in combination with the Invigor/Liberty production system. The latest approval allows the trait to be licensed to other companies.

A spokesperson for BASF Canada would not divulge the company’s commercialization plans for the trait.

“We are pleased with the verbal notification of approvals,” said Christina Stroud.

“Upon official confirmation of these approvals further communications will be made available.”

Jordan said Bayer plans to launch a Liberty Link line of canola in 2019, so obviously BASF is already licensing the RF3 trait.

One canola trait China did not approve this round is Corteva Agriscience’s Optimum GLY trait. It is also awaiting approval from the European Union and other import markets.

Both TruFlex and Optimum GLY allow growers to apply glyphosate herbicide at higher rates and over a broader window of application.

The traits are controversial given the extensive public scrutiny and controversy surrounding glyphosate.

Carey Gillam, former senior correspondent for Reuters and research director for the consumer rights group U.S. Right to Know, is not impressed with the launch of the new traits.

“It sounds like a short-term fix that is a recipe for long-term problems,” she said in an email.

“History has shown us very clearly that these ever-higher uses of glyphosate herbicides spell environmental trouble and keep farmers trapped in a pesticide-dependent system. This is not a demonstration of good stewardship.”

When the TruFlex trait was introduced by Monsanto earlier this decade, the company had no qualms about describing one of the attributes as the ability to apply higher rates of glyphosate.

These days Bayer, which recently acquired Monsanto, is using different language to describe the product.

“It’s not really so much about applying higher rates, it’s more about the flexibility in spray rates,” said Jordan.

“We describe it as flexibility in spray rates.”

She said if farmers are dealing with a particularly tough-to-control weed, they have the flexibility now to apply the herbicide at a higher rate without damaging their canola.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that farmers will be using more glyphosate. It’s just that the crop and the technology within the seed has the ability to tolerate higher rates when required,” said Jordan.

She said the common belief is that spraying off-label rates is the culprit in situations where grain samples test at elevated residue levels.

“But our research shows the issue is really more about spraying when the crop is not ready, i.e. too wet,” said Jordan.

It comes from growers spraying too early when the crop contains more than 30 percent moisture.

She also noted there is a common misconception that growers douse their crops with chemicals, while the reality is that chemicals are expensive and farmers use them prudently.

The Canola Council of Canada estimates that once TruFlex, RF3 and Optimum GLY are fully commercialized, growers will increase canola production returns by $400 million annually using the same amount of land.

“Not only will we be able to produce more canola to meet growing world demand, we’ll also be able to do it sustainably, using the same land base,” council president Jim Everson said in an email.

“That’s good news for anyone who cares about the health of our environment and a strong, diversified farm economy.”

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