Canada grows about 85 per cent of the world’s condiment mustard, with most produced in the southern regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Depending on the year, southern Alberta plants about 80,000 to 150,000 acres, with Saskatchewan more than doubling that production with about 400,000 acres. This year, the market needs about 550,000 acres of mustard from Canada, says Steve Foster, Viterra’s senior merchandising for mustard in Regina.
While production has been as high as 800,000 acres, there’s been a drop in acres over the past few years. “We really need the crop this year since there’s not a big carryover,” says Foster.
Viterra, the largest buyer and processor of mustard in Canada, usually goes out to producers in January with new production contracts. “If a farmer says he is prepared to grow 100 acres at a certain price, then that’s the price we need from the buyers – this is a flat price commodity, there is no hedging mechanism, and we need the sale right away,” says Foster.
He speculates that this year the price for yellow mustard in southern Alberta will be between 32 and 37 cents a pound, compared to last year’s 45 to 50 cents. “The enduse customers can’t make up their minds as to what they are going to buy,” Foster says. “Our real challenge is to make sure the mustard they want to buy is available and that means convincing some farmers to plant without a contract.”
Normal demand is around 180,000 to 200,000 tonnes. There’s only 20,000 tonnes of carryover from last season, so if producers face late seeding or other growing challenges, supply could be tight. “Even if we get this year’s crop as expected, demand will eat it up,” says Foster.
DIFFERENT END USES
All three types of mustard are grown in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan: yellow, brown and oriental. Most of the yellow mustard is consumed in the North American market, while the brown is sent to Europe and the oriental to Asia. There are different varieties for each type, depending on whether the end product is wet or dry mustard.
In North America oriental mustard is mostly used as a condiment, but in other countries it’s crushed to produce cooking oil. Yellow mustard (Sinapis alba) is best known as the main ingredient in North America’s traditional hot dog mustard. The plant produces a long, narrow pod and is unique among crops. Oriental and brown mustards are derived from Brassica juncea and are quite similar to canola. Brown mustard is commonly used in the manufacturing of Dijon-style mustard.
Foster says that southern Alberta is a good fit for mustard production. The hot, dry climate and soil conditions promote the dryland crop’s growth. Even though mustard doesn’t need much moisture once a good root base is established, some is grown on irrigated land, where the added water allows for some improved yields. Average yields are around 700 pounds per acre.
Europe is Canada’s biggest competition in the mustard market. In the United States, North Dakota and Montana also crop some mustard, around 60,000 to 100,000 acres. In Canada, planting is normally done during the middle to the end of May, with harvest from the middle to the end of August.
Mustard growers don’t tend to use a lot of chemicals, since the crop doesn’t require them. Even when spraying for insects, most growers are very limited in what they can use, says Foster. While white rust can be an issue on brown mustard, there are not many other pests or diseases that plague mustard, other than gophers in some areas.
The biggest rotation issue with mustard is canola. While some growers may be tempted to replace mustard with canola, it should be noted that once the switch is made, mustard cannot be grown again for five years due to an abundance of canola volunteers and the potential for GMO contamination.
Mustard yields are traditionally lower than canola since there are no GMO varieties. End users will only tolerate a small amount of GMO contamination in mustard, so there is concern about cross-pollination between mustard and canola fields in the same area. Foster says in windy southern Alberta it’s even more of an issue, as some end-use clients want a guarantee of a five-mile radius of no canola around mustard.
Viterra works with the Canadian Mustard Association, the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission and agricultural research organizations to support the development of better, higher-yielding mustard varieties.
Foster believes that mustard is gaining popularity with the younger generation and that the demand for the crop will grow. “Everyone likes spice, and mustard complements many types of food,” says Foster.
Mustard production began in western Canada in 1936 with 40 hectares grown in southern Alberta. At that time, the states of California and Montana monopolized production, but Canadian acreage increased because of higher yields and better quality.