Canary seed holds steady despite food adoption hopes

(Photo courtesy Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan)

MarketsFarm — Expectations for canary seed to break beyond birdseed into the food market haven’t yet translated to substantially higher prices for the crop.

Canary seed was designated safe for human consumption in 2016, after which Saskatchewan’s then-agriculture minister Lyle Stewart predicted acreage dedicated to the crop would increase as it was incorporated into more human food products.

The gluten-free grain was previously consumed only as birdseed, with Mexico and Europe being the main importers of the Canadian crop.

However, since retailers haven’t taken to the crop with the same verve as for other non-traditional grains such as quinoa, canary seed prices have stayed flat for a number of years.

Kevin Hursh, executive director of the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan, is undeterred.

“We were warned adoption would be a slow process, but there has always been a market in health foods,” he said. “Penetration into seed use in snack bars, ground into flour, and on hamburger buns has been slow to develop.”

Currently, producers make decisions based solely on demand from the birdseed market, Hursh said.

As the 2019 growing season nears, prices are holding steady at 24 cents/lb. delivered. This is a modest increase from 2018, which saw prices swing between 20 and 23 cents/lb.

Decisions on whether to plant canary seed are largely influenced by prices of other major crops.

“There was disappointment with durum prices at one point, and though they’ve come back, it doesn’t take a lot to rather dramatically change acreage projections” said Hursh.

Statistics Canada estimates that production will fall by 23 per cent in 2019, due to lower area and yields. However, Hursh believes output will ultimately remain stable.

“Given the current situation, prices aren’t really exciting, but [aren’t] declining” he said.

Statistics Canada also forecast that the stocks-to-use ratio will decrease significantly in 2019 to reflect tightening production levels. The agency will publish an updated 2019 principal field crop areas report on April 24.

— Marlo Glass writes for MarketsFarm, a Glacier FarmMedia division specializing in grain and commodity market analysis and reporting.

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