Oilseed acres may be nearing their maximum in Manitoba and could decline over the next six years, according to projections from the provincial Agriculture Department.
Total canola, flaxseed, sunflower and soybean acres will peak at 4.6 million acres in 2011 and fall slightly to 4.5 million acres by 2017, predicts Anastasia Kubinec, a Manitoba Agr icul ture, Food and Rural Initiatives oilseed specialist.
The main reason is a possible 20 per cent drop in canola acres from 3.5 million acres expected this year to 2.8 million acres predicted for 2017.
The drop in canola acres is a bit surprising, considering the bright-yellow crop has become a booming success story for the province’s agriculture industry in just a few decades.
But because canola today takes up 30 per cent of Manitoba’s 11.6 million crop acres, it may be pushing the agronomic limits, Kubinec said.
“How much of a single crop is too much?” she asked during a recent public lecture at the University of Manitoba.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Kubinec illustrated wild shifts in the composition of oilseed crops in Manitoba over the past 65 years.
To start with, she took her audience back to 1948 when canola wasn’t even on the radar screen as a commercial crop in Manitoba.
That year, fewer than 1,000 acres of rapeseed were planted. Flaxseed made up most of the 1.02 million acres of oilseeds in the province. Sunflowers had a mere 20,000 acres.
Canola exploded on the scene in 1975 with 750,000 seeded acres. Sunflowers increased to 62,000 acres and flaxseed fell to 750,000 acres. In all, Manitoba farmers grew nearly 1.6 million acres of oilseeds that year.
Canola continued its exponent ial growth in 1994 with 2.5 million acres. Sunflowers continued to expand with 140,000 acres. Flaxseed continued a slow decline to 690,000 acres. Total oilseed acres that year: 3.3 million acres.
Fast-forward to 2010 and there’s a new kid on the block. Soybeans exploded the way canola had previously done, recording 520,000 acres. Sunflowers tailed off slightly with 135,000 acres. Flaxseed fell sharply to 175,000 acres. Canola’s upswing continued but more slowly, reaching 3.3 million acres. Total oilseed plantings in 2010 numbered 4.2 million acres, representing a fourfold increase since 1948.
Kubinec’s oilseed estimates for 2011 are: 3.5 million acres of canola; 300,000 acres of flaxseed; 90,000 acres of sunflowers; 750,000 acres of soybeans.
Looking ahead to 2017, she offered the following projections: 2.8 million acres of canola; 500,000 acres of flaxseed; 225,000 acres of sunflowers; one million acres of soybeans.
WHY THE DROP IN CANOLA?
Kubinec said rotations are tightening and pests are increasing in canola (but in other crops, too). Soybeans are a good alternative on wet soils, which Manitoba had in abundance last year. Also, adding soybeans to the rotation helps deal with blackleg, a potentially devastating disease in canola.
Other reasons for the shift away from canola include high market prices for flax and sunflowers (although they can be unstable, as evidenced by the 2010 collapse in flax acres resulting from the Triffid GM scare in Europe).
Flax and sunflowers also have new crop protection products which improve their competitiveness, Kubinec said.
– ANASTASIA KUBINEC, MAFRI