The Canola Council of Canada believes Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) can still take on high-priority research projects this growing season, including canola yield trials and research into yield-robbing canola diseases, despite COVID-19.
However, this year’s canolaPalooza events in the three Prairie provinces showcasing the latest canola agronomy have been cancelled because of the virus, council chair Jim Everson said April 28 during a webinar to update farmers and others on pressing canola-related issues.
“Where possible we hope this (AAFC) research can continue over the coming growing season,” Everson said. “There may be circumstances with particular projects where it is unfeasible without jeopardizing workers’ health and safety to carry on the research work, but we’re very much ready to work with Agriculture Canada to help find solutions… on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis.”
In an April 23 news release the Prairie cereal commissions urged AAFC to focus on its most important research this growing season after receiving mixed messages that it might not.
An AAFC statement April 25 seemed to all but rule that out.
“In response to public health orders, AAFC research centres scaled their operations to critical services only,” AAFC’s statement says in part.
But some, including Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association general manager Pam de Rocquigny, said the following section of AAFC’s statement left the door open a crack:
“These actions do not allow, at this time, for field-based research pro- jects that require physical presence in our fields or laboratory facilities, nor non-field research in laboratories and greenhouses to be conducted,” AAFC’s statement also said. “We recognize that the situation is evolving quickly and at different paces across the country.”
“At this time means right now… ” de Rocquigny said in an interview April 25. “But they’ve (AAFC) also said they are assessing things so we’re unclear as to whether the decision has been made. In talking with them there seems there still might be a window. When they say ‘at this time’ is totally different than them saying ‘we’ve pulled the pin on the 2020.’”
Everson said the federal government is strained by COVID-19.
“A lot of the officials that we met with on a regular basis are kind of reassigned to working on the COVID file because of the national importance,” he said. “So we recognize there are issues managing all of the issues on the federal government’s plate and research in agriculture is one of them. But we feel if we can focus on priorities and look at how we can adapt to the restrictions that are in place because of COVID then we can continue the most important research moving forward.”
While the canolaPaloozas, organized by the council, the canola producers’ associations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and AAFC have been cancelled, important information for canola growers will be delivered through the council’s Canola Watch e-newsletter and other ways, Everson said.
So far COVID-19 hasn’t disrupted Canada’s grain and oilseed supply chain with inputs coming in or products going out, he said.
While demand for canola seed, oil and meal are expected to continue, COVID-19 could affect access to foreign markets or shift consumer demand, Everson said when asked if a drop in restaurant french fry orders would affect canola oil demand.
“There could be some disruption in the feed grain supply chains (which could also affect canola meal) because we are seeing some disruption in the large animal markets due to the closures of packing plants for example,” Canadian Canola Growers Association CEO Rick White told the webinar.
Both White and Everson stressed they want to know from farmers if supply chain issues occur so they can report it to the federal government. Both consult on COVID-19 with AAFC and Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials three times a week.