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They haven’t struck oil — and that’s a good thing for canola growers

A new high-protein canola aimed at the feed market could increase farmer returns

Canola meal could soon give soymeal a run for its money in international feed markets, thanks to a new high-protein canola variety coming down the pipe.

Ward Toma.
photo: File/Supplied

“This is a positive for the whole industry,” said Ward Toma, general manager of Alberta Canola.

“It increases the value of the secondary product — the meal — and when you increase the value of the secondary product, you increase the value of the crop.”

DowDuPont is in late development stages for ProPound, a canola variety with a protein content that rivals that of soybeans, which dominate the pig feed market. The company’s ag division (which will become a stand-alone company, Corteva Agriscience, next year) aims to start selling ProPound canola as early as 2019, said Dave Dzisiak, North America commercial leader for grains and oilseeds at the company.

“The food industry really wants more options,” Dzisiak told the Reuters news agency. “Canola could create a whole new opportunity.”

The move from DowDuPont comes as other agriculture majors, such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, are turning to peas as a fast-expanding protein source. ProPound canola meal will primarily target pig and poultry farms in Canada, the U.S., and China, as well as fish farms.

“The canola meal market is heavily dependent on the dairy industry in the United States and China, so if something were to go sideways there, that could severely weaken our meal market,” said Toma.

“Having a higher-value meal helps reduce that risk. It moves us out of just the dairy sector and into the swine and poultry sectors. It helps us diversify our marketplace a little bit.”

Soybeans currently have the edge on canola because soymeal, separated from the beans, contains more protein than canola meal. But DowDuPont’s ProPound would narrow that gap, producing canola meal with 44 per cent protein, and less fibre, from canola’s typical level of 37 per cent. Soymeal has 47 per cent protein.

Canola meal typically sells for about 30 per cent less than soymeal, reflecting its lesser protein content, but achieving a comparable protein level may shrink that discount to 10 per cent, allowing canola meal exporters to reap greater profits while undercutting soymeal, Dzisiak said.

That should help boost prices for producers, said Toma. Crushers and processors will take their cut, but some of the higher value they receive for the end product will flow down the value chain.

“It creates a stronger secondary market there, but everybody has to make money doing this,” he said. “If farmers see value in growing this, they’ll do it.”

Developing high-protein canola has long been possible for plant breeders, but only at the expense of canola’s yield, or the amount of valuable oil in each seed. The breakthrough that produced in ProPound has been ratcheting up protein levels without diminishing yield or oil content, Dzisiak told Reuters.

While most of Canada’s canola is grown from genetically modified seeds, the high-protein trait was achieved through years of incremental, traditional plant breeding.

In its Saskatoon laboratory, DowDuPont’s work included marking canola genes from different strains to identify for breeders which plants contain desirable traits, and where in the genome they are located. With that information, breeders then select varieties of canola and cross them hundreds of times to come up with something new.

This is a different take on high-protein canola development, Toma added.

“Historically, protein has been sought out by reducing other attributes. There’s a relationship there,” he said. “But DowDuPont found a different way around it. It’s the same end goal, but a different way of doing things. And it looks like it’s working out better.”

And that’s what’s spurring this new industry interest in developing high-protein canola, said Toma.

“We could never get industry investment before,” he said. “Part of the challenge has been in being able to deliver value to the livestock sector. But they saw a need and were able to meet that need.

“That has a lot to do with the potential success of this product.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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