Mustard growers remain optimistic for 2014

CNS Canada — Despite a colder-than-normal spring, softening prices and uncertainty over Canada’s chief export rival, mustard growers continue to be enthusiastic about this year’s crop.

Snowfall and excess moisture have delayed planting in many areas by at least a week, according to Patrick Ackerman, chairman of the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission.

“I’m 10 days away from hitting the field,” he said from his farm near Chamberlain, Sask., about 50 km north of Moose Jaw. Runoff has exceeded expectations in many areas, he noted, but he expects farmers to seed quicker in the southeast than other regions.

Kevin Hursh, who farms near Saskatoon and is the commission’s executive director, said delays shouldn’t pose much of a problem because mustard is a short-season crop.

“If anything, delays might favour mustard.”

This season’s planting intentions report by Statistics Canada, released April 24, calls for 375,000 acres of mustard seed to be planted in Saskatchewan, and another 105,000 in Alberta. That’s up from 270,000 acres and 95,000 acres last year, respectively.

Hursh said he’d been expecting an increase in acres and believes those numbers might even rise further as the year goes on due to the difficulty in measuring specialty crops.

New contract prices have also been enticing, he said. “New-crop brown (price) was as high as 34 cents (per pound) for a contract price, it’s not that today, but that was sort of peak of the market.”

Ackerman agreed the price has softened.

“I heard some new-crop brown in that 36 (cents per pound)-plus range, really early on, and now it’s softened quite a bit. Some of these contractors are filling the acres they wanted so they’re softening prices and discouraging that production.”

The same trend seems to be happening in yellow mustard, he said.

“It started off in the 38- to 40-cent (per pound) range for new-crop. It’s down in the 35-cent range now for new-crop, so they’ve all softened slightly and they’ve also softened due to other commodities.”

Ackerman said the fact other commodities softened up may have impacted mustard. “The end-user thought, ‘Why are we paying so much for mustard?’ So I think they saw an opportunity to soften some prices, but I don’t think you’re going to see it soften much more.”

As for Ukraine, neither producer has heard whether unrest in that country will decrease exports from the world’s second-largest supplier of mustard.

“It certainly impacts the market in Western Europe. If Ukraine decided for whatever reason it was going to jump into a bunch of extra yellow or brown mustard, it does impact those markets no question,” said Hursh.

“That’s sure different”

Ackerman sees it differently. Last year he had a buyer come into his yard who had just returned from Ukraine and noticed a stark difference in quality.

“I had a yellow mustard crop right beside my yard. He looked at that and said, ‘Wow, that’s sure different than what I saw last week in Ukraine.'” According to Ackerman, the buyer described a patchy crop with a few pods to a flower.

Even while Ackerman was hearing such descriptions, he said various reports were coming down that Ukraine was going to flood the market. Canadian growers wouldn’t be able to compete against the euro because of the price difference, the stories went.

None of it happened, however, and Ackerman said he believes the world’s ingredient buyers will continue to focus on Canada because of the quality it offers. He doubts Ukraine will pose much of a threat.

“They’re not even on the radar as far as I’m concerned.”

Transporting mustard is another reason why the crop is popular with growers, Hursh said. It wasn’t affected by the logistics problems seen in other crops because it can be shipped in containers.

“If you wanted to sell a commodity like this, you’ve been able to move it.”

Hursh said he suspects there will be very little carry-over.

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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