Flax Growers Urged To Test Seed Before Planting

“I just want farmers, particularly if you’re going to use your farm-saved seed, make sure that you get it tested properly because the paperwork will be needed for fall when you want to sell it.”

– ALLEN KUHLMAN

All flaxseed needs to be rigorously tested and found to be free of CDC Triffid before being sown this spring, even if it tested negative last fall, the Flax Council of Canada says.

“I just want farmers, particularly if you’re going to use your farm-saved seed, to make sure that you get it tested properly because the paperwork will be needed for fall when you want to sell it,” Allen Kuhlman, chair of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission told farmers who phoned in to a conference call March 18.

“We’ve got to be proactive here and move in a positive direction.”

Seven laboratories are accredited to test for Triffid, a genetically modified (GM) flax that turned up at low levels last summer in Canadian flax shipments to the European Union (EU).

The discovery has virtually shut down flax exports to Canada’s biggest customer, costing Canadian farmers and exporters and EU processors and end-users millions of dollars.

Initially any trace of Triffid, developed at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre in the mid-1990s but never commercialized, in a shipment resulted in its rejection. Now “zero” is defined as less than 0.01 per cent, or about one seed in 40,000.

Although an improvement, Canadian flax exporters say the risk of rejection is still too high. The best way to reduce the risk is to remove Triffid from the system, said Terry James, chair of the Flax Council of Canada (FCC) and vice-president of Richardson International, a major flax exporter. And that’s why all seed – farm saved and certified – must pass what’s known as the four by 60 (4 X 60) test.

A cleaned, representative 20-kilogram sample is taken from a seed lot of no more than 20 tonnes. A minimum of four subsamples per one tonne (one sample per 10 bushels) must be drawn and mixed thoroughly.

The sample is sent to a lab (see attached list) and four, 60-gram samples are taken and tested separately, providing results that are 95 per cent accurate. That’s better than one 60-gram test, which is only 60 per cent accurate.

The council recommends farmers get the one sample test done first. If the seed fails the first test there’s no point in submitting it for the second.

Farmers must test flax varieties developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada even though so far Triffid contamination has not been found in Agriculture Canada’s breeder seed. Officials at Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, where breeder seed contamination has been found, say Agriculture Canada’s seed hasn’t been as closely scrutinized.

Officials also stress pedigreed seed of varieties from Agriculture Canada could be contaminated.

One Winkler-area farmer said the certified Flanders flaxseed he purchased in 2007, worth more than $4,000, tested positive for Triffid.

“It would be my recommendation not to plant it,” James said.

Triffid testing will continue for a number of years, said Linda Braun, executive director of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission.

To satisfy EU customers James said Richardson wants farmers to test the 2010 flax crop for Triffid before delivering it.

“The only way that we are going to (satisfy the EU) do it is with constant testing – testing of the new crop that a producer harvests, testing of rail cars… and then testing again in the terminal at Thunder Bay to make sure it’s negative before it goes on a vessel,” he said.

A farmer from Crystal City said he still hadn’t received results on samples submitted five weeks ago.

The turnaround time for the labs in Saskatoon ranges from three to seven working days. Farmers can speed up the process by sending their samples by courier and including their email or fax numbers for results.

Meanwhile, other efforts to restore normalcy to flax exports continue. Canada is working with EU officials to accept Canadian Grain Commission test results of flax stored securely at export ports, replacing tests taken after the flax is loaded on ships.

Canada is also urging the EU to increase the tolerance level for Triffid from 0.01 per cent to 0.1 per cent.

“But as you know they (EU) are very intransigent when it comes to GMO,” James said. “It’s a slow process, but it’s being worked on.” [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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