Canola plant incident ‘theft and trespassing’

There have been reports from Alberta that people are entering fields near Calgary and absconding with canola plants

Reports in early July of people near Calgary removing canola plants from farmers’ fields gained major mainstream media attention.

With canola at full bloom, the sunshiny yellow fields glow in the sun. Such fields are often used as backdrops for photos of prairie weddings or graduations but mass removal of plants by interlopers is a new twist.

A CBC report indicated one farmer near Calgary lost about two acres of canola, some taken and some trampled.

Police issued tickets in a few cases where the activity was reported earlier this month.

It is assumed that the plants are being sought for use of the leaves in salads and various other dishes. As a member of the cabbage and mustard family of plants, canola leaves have a similar mild peppery taste if used when they are young.

However, anecdotal reports of people taking garbage bags full of plants have moved the matter beyond simple attraction to pretty plants or the desire to put a few leaves into a salad.

All the attention to recent incidents has been somewhat tiresome for those at the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, which typically deals with issues ranging from agronomy and marketing to international trade.

Grower relations manager Rick Taillieu is among those called upon for comment on the issue.

“In some diets the canola plant in its early stage, canola greens, which are similar to mustards that people can actually grow at home, are used in some dishes. So people, unfortunately, see a large field of canola and just assume that whether they take a handful of plants or a garbage bag full of plants or even maybe a whole acre of plants that they’re not really hurting anything.

“The truth of the matter is, that is essentially theft and trespassing.”

Farmers who have reported such thefts have been advised to erect “no trespassing” signs but given the scale of canola production across the Prairies, that is one of the few options available to discourage the thefts.

Taillieu said education is a better option than litigation.

“We’d like to think that it’s being done without bad intentions but we would also like to see people stop taking other people’s produce, or at least talk to the farmer and maybe gain permission. Maybe he’d even be willing to sell it, who knows?”

When it comes to farm theft, break-ins and theft of tools and equipment is a far bigger issue, and one that has become a more frequent problem in recent years.

Though people taking canola plants may not think of it as theft, there is a basic principle involved.

“I don’t think anybody wants to wake up one morning in the city and see a farmer out in their garden taking their lettuce plants. It’s exactly the same thing,” said Taillieu.

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