CANOLA: NO NEWS IS, WELL, NOT SURPRISING
I just finished sitting in on the second Canola Council of Canada (CCC) and Canola Growers of Canada webinar with an update on the China-doesn’t-want-our-canola situation and really there is no news or little change.
On the Canadian side all players are looking at all options, but honestly what can you do if the buyer — China — won’t even talk to you? It’s a political issue that can’t be solved by science, and if the Chinese won’t talk, then diplomacy isn’t going to have much luck either.
Today’s webinar involved Jim Everson, president of the CCC, Rick White, CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers and for part of the 45 minute webinar, Jim Carr, federal Minister of International Trade Diversification was also on the call. The industry is doing its best to keep farmers informed.
Today’s webinar was perhaps a little more open recognizing this isn’t a problem involving contaminated canola seed. The discussion alluded to — in the absence of facts — this is about China applying trade pressure on Canada for arresting and detaining one of it’s tech company executives who is wanted on charges in the United States.
First China put some Canadians in jail in China for what appears to be largely trumped-up offences, then it fabricated a problem with canola seed shipments. I heard yesterday China is now finding fault with Canadian pork exports…my guess is this snowball is just beginning to roll.
I’ve heard some argue Canada should play hardball with China — strike back. But I’m not exactly sure where David could aim his sling, that would really have an impact on this Goliath.
Back to the canola front. Programs and options that are being looked at:
- The Advance Payment Program for farmers has been expanded to help canola farmers. Farmers can now access $1 million for cash flow and operating funds, with $500,000 being interest free. That helps but ultimately it is still money that has to be paid back.
- Expand markets – everyone is looking to identify world markets with crush capacity that perhaps could handle more Canadian canola seed.
- Expand crush capacity at home. Canola crushing plants in Canada are running close to capacity processing nearly 50 per cent of Canadian canola now. More plants could be built but it’s a bit of a Catch 22 — to encourage investment in new plants, first you need to line up some solid markets.
It sounds like everyone is scrambling to find a fix, but there are just no immediate, overnight solutions.
Fifteen years ago when the world market closed to Canadian beef due to the BSE crisis, Canadians rallied behind the industry by buying more Canadian beef. Maybe if the federal government offered a huge grant to consumers to buy deep fryers we could all buy more canola oil and deep fry everything. But then probably most of the deep fryers are made in China so really that strategy would result in me getting fatter and Chinese manufacturers getting richer. I’ll have to rethink that plan.
OUTSIDE THE BOX DIVERSIFICATION
Alberta may become a “surf and turf” producing province. Already, recognized world-wide for producing quality beef, an enterprising environmental engineer from Calgary has now launched the province’s first shrimp producing facility near Strathmore, east of Calgary.
Keith Driver was making media headlines this week with word of his 9,000 square foot Waterford Farms shrimp production facility in Wheatland County. Driver expects to have his first shrimp harvest this month with the goal of a multi-harvest crop of about 2.5 million head or 45,000 kilograms of shrimp per year.
While not a particularly large facility square foot wise, shrimp babies, brought in from Texas are reared in racks of multi-level trays using a high tech salt water circulation system to carry nutrients to the growing shrimp that are ready to harvest at about 20 weeks.
Driver expects to market the marketable (length of an open hand) shrimp to restaurants and grocery stores. Produced in a recirculating aquaculture system the shrimp are billed as being raised without the need for antibiotics, hormones or pesticides (sounds a bit like an A & W commercial).
Waterford is the first commercial shrimp operation in Alberta (and the prairie region), however Planet Shrimp has been operating near London, Ont. for some time and Berezan Shrimp near Langley was among the first shrimp farm in B.C.
According to market forecasts, there is plenty of room for the farmed shrimp industry to grow. It is a fairly big business with about three million tonnes of farmed shrimp produced around the world annually and that’s expected to increase by about 18 per cent over the next couple years.
I think back to some of the farm diversification efforts over the years — wild boar, ostrich, llamas, and even flying squirrels and it makes me think farmed shrimp may have a chance.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]