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Sask. mustard: small but mighty

There 
used to be 
more growers 
out there

2015 was a challenging year for many crops across the Prairies, and mustard was no exception. But Saskatchewan growers say the outlook is good.

Although mustard acres decreased in Saskatchewan in 2015 — by as much as 100,000 acres, to around 300,000 seeded acres in the province — mustard prices remain high, ranging from 30 cents per pound for brown and oriental seed to 45 cents per pound for yellow.

According to Richard Marleau, chair of the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission (SMDC), Saskatchewan is the world’s largest producer of mustard seed, followed by Ukraine. The province produces three-quarters of Canada’s supply, destined for markets in the U.S., France and Germany.

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This year, Saskatchewan growers faced their share of bad weather, says Marleau. “In my area we were fortunate to get some rains early, and that tided things over. But in the western part of the province there were some really dry areas,” he says.

“Dry conditions and crop establishment were an issue for some growers, and late-spring frosts and some flea beetle pressure. There was also inadequate rain throughout the growing season.”

In recent years, Saskatchewan’s mustard industry has seen a small revitalization. In 2007, SMDC and the Canadian Mustard Association (CMA) partnered to build Mustard 21, a non-profit organization that works on strategic development of the mustard industry in the province.

“The goal is to work together for variety development and then also expand the markets for mustard — new uses and novel uses for mustard seed,” says Marleau.

But the mustard industry is changing, with many growers moving toward canola and other oilseeds, and only a “core group” of mustard growers remaining in the province.

“We’ve had this discussion at the board level and one of the things that keeps coming up is the change in farm size and amalgamation of land bases,” says Marleau. “There used to be more growers out there numbers-wise, and they might have 100 to 500 acres under production in any given year. A lot of those producers have been bought out or absorbed, and the canola acreage keeps on expanding.”

Marleau says the marketing aspect of mustard might be contributing to the trend. Mustard takes longer to market than canola, unless the market is very tight.

“As the farmers expand, I imagine they’ve got cash flow commitments and they need something they can readily convert, and canola offers that, along with good agronomic attributes and weed control. I think that’s why canola acreage has expanded and mustard acres are contracting,” he says.

“I’m not in a large acreage expansion mode — my acres are not increasing by multiples every year — so I don’t require that cash flow to meet my obligations. It’s a different mindset.”

The bright side of mustard

Marleau says there are many benefits to growing mustard, beyond prices and the benefits of including an oilseed in a rotation. Once established, mustard is relatively hardy and naturally chokes out weeds. In good years, insect pressure is relatively low. Mustard genetics are also good. Most varieties are pod-shatter resistant varieties that can be straight-cut.

“You plant it and watch it but you don’t have to babysit it,” he says.

Barbara Ziesman, Saskatchewan’s provincial specialist for oilseed crops, says the biggest agronomic challenge for mustard growers in 2015 was stand establishment.

Growers can get strong early development by following a few key guidelines.

“The biggest one is to seed early to allow the crop time to reach its full yield potential. Mustard can germinate in soil as low as 4° but will grow faster and more vigourously in warmer soil with the optimum soil temperature occurring at 10°,” she says. “And it’s best to seed into moisture, but as shallowly as possible, at about 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres — very similar to canola. If you seed too deep, deeper than five centimetres, if the plants do emerge, they’ll be weak.”

But perhaps Ziesman’s most important recommendation is not to cut seeding rates. “If you’re going into challenging conditions where the plants will face stresses such as cold soil, early season frost, and early pest pressure, the biggest thing is to ensure seeding rates are adequate,” she says. “If you have more plants you have a higher chance of getting a dense plant stand. Once you cut rates, minor stresses will influence your crop stand a lot more.”

Ziesman and her colleagues at Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture and at the SMDC are developing a new mustard growers’ manual, to be released in early 2017. The manual will include guidelines on variety selection, staging and pest management.

“This manual will be very comprehensive, and include all the information you might need if you want to get into mustard. And it will all be available online,” says Ziesman.

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Julienne Isaacs

Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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