Glyphosate raises milling questions

Grain Millers’ Saskatchewan milling plant at Yorkton. (

There’s more to the controversy surrounding glyphosate than whether the herbicide is safe to use or not: one miller has said it found oats and other grains treated with pre-harvest glyphosate don’t mill as well as untreated grains.

Since 2015, Grain Millers Inc. has had a glyphosate-free policy on oats, said Eric Deblieck, a crop specialist with the company. Oats treated with glyphosate were found to mill very similar to oats damaged by frost, in that the flakes were smaller and not as plump.

Unlike frost-damaged oats, which can be spotted visually, glyphosate-treated oats cannot be spotted until the milling process, according to Deblieck.

“If there’s a lot of oats or a truckload of oats that dumps at our facility, there’s no way for us to see right then and there, to see when the truck is getting probed or when it’s dumping at the pit to know whether these oats will mill as they should or mill poorly,” he said.

Grain Millers’ no-glyphosate policy now includes all of the grains it processes, he added.

“It is making sure we can get consistent quality to our customers, so they can provide a consistent quality to their customers, and their customers being consumers,” he said.

Grain Millers has carried out a variety of research to support its no-glyphosate policy, with particular regard to milling, he said. And the company partnered with institutions to conduct lab-style research which included starch accumulation, overall flour quality and oat flake quality.

Also, in Grain Millers’ no-glyphosate policy, it’s stated the company isn’t suggesting there are health or food safety concerns with the chemical.

On the other side of the equation are those who contend glyphosate-treated grain mills just as well as untreated grain.

“I don’t know if it’s in the process, whether it’s the equipment they use or it’s a timing issue of when glyphosate got put on at the right stage of the crop. There’s so many variables here,” said Art Enns, a farmer at Morris, Man. and president of the Prairie Oat Growers Association.

“There are a certain number of companies that have asked that the oats they take not be sprayed, but on the flipside we have a number of companies that are still taking glyphosate,” he said, suggesting consumers can choose the products they purchase.

A non-chemical alternative to pre-harvest glyphosate is swathing, he noted, but many farmers have done away with their swathers.

“If you would have laid oats on the ground in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where they got all this snow and all the wet weather, you would get mould. You would get growth happening, which also deteriorates the crop.”

Nancy Ames, a cereal research scientist in Winnipeg with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is researching the milling issue. Her colleague in a wide-ranging, multi-year study has been Chris Willenberg of the University of Saskatchewan.

Willenberg undertook the growing of oats with glyphosate on- and off-label, taking into account a large number of variables.

Some of these included moisture levels, times, locations, varieties of oats, seeding rates, straight-combining and swathing, Ames said.

Ames is carrying out the milling studies and has looked at the different characteristics about the oat quality.

“In general terms, we didn’t find that much of an effect,” she said, noting this study has yet to be completed or published.

Glyphosate has been produced since 1974 by Monsanto, now part of Bayer, under the Roundup trademark.

Trish Jordan, media relations for Bayer Canada, said she spoke with some of the company’s technical people and “none have ever heard, or seen evidence of, glyphosate-treated oats creating an impact on milling.”

Health Canada on Jan. 11 reiterated that its 2017 re-evaluation of glyphosate found the product is “not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2017 said glyphosate is likely not a carcinogen to humans.

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

— Glen Hallick writes for MarketsFarm, a division of Glacier FarmMedia specializing in grain and commodity market analysis and reporting.

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