Planting certified flaxseed this spring instead of farm saved is part of a plan to flush traces of genetically modified (GM) CDC Triffid flax from the handling system and restore exports to the European Union (EU).
But no one in the industry is sure what the supply or demand will be.
“There’s enough (certified) seed to do somewhere between zero and 1.2 million acres,” quipped Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association.
“There is a lot of uncertainty around how much certified seed is out there.”
Meanwhile, many farmers, backed by the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) and National Farmers Union (NFU), oppose having to plant certified seed because it adds to their costs and, in their view farm-saved seed that tests negative for GM contamination will be just as effective.
But the Flax Council of Canada argues certified seed can be more closely monitored.
“At the end of the day, it really comes down to what the Europeans will accept,” David Sefton, a director with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission told farmers during a conference call Feb. 1. He added that “the cleaner we can get the seed, with the least likelihood of further (GM) Triffid contamination, the quicker we’ll get the doors reopened in a more sustainable commercial fashion.”
Last year, Canadian seed growers planted around 33,000 acres of pedigreed flax, Adolphe
“Although we’ll lose some (seed because it contains traces of GM flax) I think there will be a good supply to give us a nice, clean start moving forward.”
– TODD HYRA
said. What’s unknown is the yield, the germination – which affects seeding rates, how much of the production was certified and how much is GM free, which is now a requirement before it can be sold for seed.
It’s also unknown how much certified seed was carried over from 2008.
Assuming a net yield of 20 bushels an acre in 2009 and a seeding rate of a half-bushel an acre there could be enough certified flaxseed to plant 1.2 million acres this spring, Adolphe said in an interview last week. But if the germination is down, which is likely because of poor harvest conditions last fall, seeding rates will be higher. If farmers plant a bushel an acre then there might only be enough seed to plant 660,000 acres.
Todd Hyra, Western Canada business manager for SeCan, the dominant flaxseed distributor in Canada, estimates there’s enough certified seed to cover around a million acres. Last year Canadian farmers planted 1.54 million acres of flax and the five-year average is 1.66 million acres.
“Although we’ll lose some (seed because it contains traces of GM flax) I think there will be a good supply to give us a nice, clean start moving forward,” Hyra said.
What’s more uncertain is what the demand for certified flaxseed will be.
“I don’t think the industry as a whole has true understanding as to how the farmer is going to react to all this,” said Brent Derkatch, director of operations for Canterra Seeds.
KAP president Ian Wishart is certain farmers will seed less flax this year given weaker prices, the uncertainty over exports and all the hoops farmers will have to jump through.
That “hassle factor” might also result in some seed growers declining to sell certified flaxseed, Hyra said.
Without knowing the supply or the demand for certified flaxseed, it’s difficult to forecast seed prices.
“With flax, like cereals, a large portion of the cost of the seed is the commodity value,” Hyra said. “If the commodity value was spiralling upwards the seed value would also ratchet up and that would start to get the supply and demand playing off of each other. But as it sits right now it’s a modest price and the same is reflected in the certified seed.”
Some farmers will seed farm-saved flaxseed, Wishart said, adding they’ll face discounted prices when they deliver.
The entire industry needs to work together to clean out the GM contamination, Hyra said. Despite everyone’s best efforts, including testing certified seed for traces of GM, some contamination is likely to show up at different points in the system for a while.
Flax-exporting companies say they’ll work hard to find markets for flax that contains GM flax.
The EU found traces of CDC Triffid in shipments of Canadian flax last summer. Although the genetic modification in Triffid was approved for release in Canada and the United States, it wasn’t approved in the EU, Canada’s biggest flax market. That’s why CDC Triffid was deregistered and the pedigreed seed recalled and processed before it was sold to farmers to grow commercially.
When traces of Triffid began showing up in Canadian flax there was speculation some of the seed made it into farmers’ hands. That still might have happened, but some of the spread is due to contamination in the breeder seed of two other Crop Development Centre flax varieties – CDC Normandy and CDC Mons. [email protected]