When Richardson International, Canada’s largest grain company, ceased being among the Canola Council of Canada’s (CCC) core funders last year, it raised questions about the group’s future.
But after a lot of hard work in 2018 reviewing its operations and setting new priorities, the CCC is in good shape, outgoing chair David Dzisiak told reporters here March 7 after its annual meeting, which was part of the inaugural Canadian Crops Convention.
“Maybe it was a little more sudden than what we would’ve hoped for, but we came through it very, very well,” he said. “(W)e got unanimous consensus around the board table and everybody is looking forward.”
The CCC, which represent the canola value chain from farmers and seed companies to processors and exporters, cut its 2019 budget by $3.5 million, or 40 per cent, to $5.2 million.
Market access and boosting canola production remain top CCC priorities, the CCC announced in December.
The CCC will shift consumer-oriented canola promotion from established markets in the United States, Mexico and Japan, to emerging markets in places such as South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, in co-operation with the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
The CCC will reduce duplication between its agronomists and those with private companies through the CCC’s new Sustainable Supply Committee.
The council is also integrating staff with Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, which represents Canada’s canola crushers, and providing administration for the Flax Council of Canada.
To make things more efficient for members the CCC joined forces with the Canada Grains Council holding its annual meeting as part of the first Canadian Crops Convention, which incorporated the grains council’s annual Canadian Global Crops Symposium.
With around 350 registrants the joint convention attracted more participants than either meeting did on its own, said Dzisiak, who works for Corteva Agriscience.
Despite the CCC seemingly having addressed many of Richardson’s concerns, the company opted not to return as a core funder, Jean-Marc Ruest, Richardson’s senior vice-president corporate affairs and general counsel said in an interview in December.
However, Richardson having paid a $500-a-year fee, remains a CCC member, Dzisiak said.
Only core funders are represented at the board table and have a say in how the CCC operates.
Meanwhile, the CCC is committed to working to help Richardson resume canola exports to China, Dzisiak said.
“We’re really looking at it as an industry thing not a company thing,” he said, referring to China’s decision earlier this month to block canola imports from Richardson, alleging its shipments contained unacceptable weed seeds and diseases.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it hasn’t found anything wrong with the samples it examined.
As difficult as it was to revamp the CCC, it was valuable and needs to be done regularly, Dzisiak said.
“There were certainly some tough discussions and frank discussions, but there was never a question on the future of the canola council,” he said.
“And we have 100 per cent unanimous consensus around the council board table about priorities and about funding. So I think we’re in terrific shape. It’s good to go back every now and then and do a good gut check.”
In addition to being optimistic about the CCC’s future, Dzisiak is upbeat about canola exports to China and the long-term prospects for Canadian canola production.
“The country still continues to grow and needs what we have, which is our agri-food production and production capacity,” he said. “Canada has a great historical reputation in China. It goes back to Prime Minister (John) Diefenbaker and (the first Canadian) wheat exports (to China when most western countries didn’t recognize the communist regime) and Norman Bethune (a Canadian who is a hero in China for treating wounded communist soldiers) and there’s a lot of goodwill and history, so we’ll get through this I’m sure.”
Canola will overcome other challenges, including clubroot and climate change, Dzisiak said.
“There’s a lot of technology being invested to keep us ahead of what nature throws at us,” he said. “There is a real, I think, appropriate mindset about being good managers, being good stewards. Nobody wants to lose what we have.
“Canola is amazing in terms of its adaptive capacity. We’ve got such an installed research base. A lot of money is being invested in canola.”
Looking back after serving 15 years on the CCC’s board the increase in canola yields and plantings stand out, Dzisiak said.
The production goal set was 12 million tonnes, which “we blew by,” he said.
The 2025 goal is 26 million. Last year 20.3 million tonnes were produced.
“Hybrid canola is not really that old,” Dzisiak said. “And there’s a broad set of genetics and germplasm from around the world that we can use to improve our yield potential and that’s just beginning to get mined. I tell people canola is like where hybrid corn was in 1965. So in a lot of ways it’s still a young crop.”
The value of CCC board consensus also stands out for Dzisiak.
“Whoever set that up in the beginning had great foresight and it’s terrific that it has been maintained because that really is the strength,” he said. “So everybody has to do some give and take. And especially through last year when we went through a tough kind of relook there was a lot of give and take.”