“If acres stay this low, we’re not going to last very long as an organization.”
– MARC DURAND, PRESIDENT, MANITOBA BUCKWHEAT GROWERS ASSOCIATION
Buckwheat growers seeded just 3,506 acres in 2008 – the lowest levels since 2001 when the Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association first organized, and down a second year from the 8,065 seeded in 2007.
The low is attributed both to the lure of higher prices in other crops but also to the loss of Viterra as a contractor, said MBGA president Marc Durand, a Notre Damearea buckwheat grower, in an interview during the MBGA’s annual general meeting March 5.
“For a lot of farmers who were used to having production contracts with them… that was gone,” he said. “Other buyers were pretty new to them, and they didn’t know who all was in the market.”
Farmers didn’t necessarily go looking for new buyers either, given what other commodities were worth last year, Durand said.
The loss of acres is worrisome and potentially even threatening to their association which now has a very small budget to work with, buckwheat directors said.
“I think we’re going to struggle here in terms of getting the acres back up until we get people developing new partnerships with this very small group of buyers,” said Les McEwan, a director and buckwheat grower at Altamont.
“When someone like Viterra walks out of the marketplace, we lost 80 per cent of the contracting. It’s going to take some time for smaller companies to move in.”
It’s going to be mighty tough to keep funding research at this level, he added.
When the MBGA formed eight years ago, growers agreed to a checkoff of three-quarters
of one per cent of net sales (to a maximum of $250 for a crop year) and that half of all checkoff collected would be invested in research.
“It’s going to be a really big challenge to maintain that (50 per cent) because, well, 50 per cent of not much is not very much,” McEwan said.
Compounding their money problems, MBGA has realized it isn’t collecting all the checkoff it’s due, either.
The checkoff for 2008 should have amounted to $5,400, according to The Groat, MBGA’s newsletter.
One reason for a lower amount is that seed sales do not qualify for the deduction. However, collected checkoff has remained consistently below estimated levels since the checkoff was initiated, “which means some buckwheat sales are made but not deducted as they should be against the sale,” The Groat notes.
“Whoever you sell your buckwheat to, make sure they’re taking a checkoff,” Durand said. “And if you don’t see that checkoff being taken off, you should ask why. It adds up. If acres stay this low, we’re not going to last very long as an organization.”
Other matters covered at the meeting included ongoing concerns over lack of progress getting products registered for weed control.
Growers have had hopes pinned on a registration for Converge PRO, a Group 28 broadleaf weed killer, but Bayer will not support its registration on the Prairies, growers were told. The product is registered for use in field corn crops in B. C. and in all provinces east of Manitoba.
Meanwhile, registration of Select, a Group 1 grassy weed killer, is still pending – since 1997. The good news is that it looks like Select should get full registration in the next two or three years, said McEwan. “But it’s been a long road and we’re not there yet.”
Buckwheat growers currently have just one registered herbicide they can use, but Poast Ultra is not recommended in Manitoba due to its long pre-harvest interval.