Canola producers mark depressing anniversary

One year on, Canada and China seem no closer than ever to resolving canola seed ban

It’s been a year since China banned most imports of Canadian canola, and there’s no end in sight.

Jim Everson
photo: Supplied

“It’s a very frustrating situation for producers and the industry,” Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, said in an interview at the Canadian Crops Convention here. “There are some exports going to China (but) only about a third of what we would normally have had this time of year. It’s really concerning.”

There have been numerous efforts to resolve the situation since Beijing, citing concerns about insect contamination, banned canola exports handled by Winnipeg-based Richardson International on March 6, 2019. But the talks, including discussions between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and technical staff in China, have not produced results. (However, those talks have been put on hold because of COVID-19.)

“I think it’s fair that the government people from Canada are not satisfied there’s a very strong explanation for the action China has taken,” said Everson. “It’s an issue that is beyond the control of the canola industry. It’s not about canola, it’s about the other issues between Canada and China and it is frustrating because the farmer and the industry are shouldering the whole issue.”

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The new chair of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association echoed that view.

“Anxiety is a big part of it,” said Clayton Harder. “From a planning perspective, farmers have to keep their pencils sharp. But with these unknowns that are completely out of control in the background, it leaves people with an elevated level of concern.”

He said he’s seen more stories about farmers suffering from increased anxiety.

“Farmers pride themselves on being stoic individuals, but people are talking about it,” he said.

Harder said there is one measure that Ottawa could take while talks with China continue.

“We would like to see an increase in biofuels content,” he said. “If Canada could go to that five per cent, that would be a market the size of Japan itself. That would be great, that would really help us out.”

And while no single buyer can replace China, developing new markets in Asia would also help, he said.

“It’s going to take a variety of different entities to fill that gap,” said Harder. “That’s the reality. It’s not going to go to one place. It’s going to be a number of them.”

That is happening, said Everson, who cited a trade mission in December that in addition to visiting South Korea and Japan also travelled to Pakistan.

“That’s a market that is quite interesting to us from a diversification perspective,” he said.

Sales of canola are up in that country as well as markets such as the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, he said.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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