The message to canola growers from the Canola Council of Canada and grain companies over the last few months has been straightforward:
Don’t apply quinclorac herbicide to canola this year because it could jeopardize exports.
Farmers will have to sign a declaration saying their canola has not been treated with quinclorac for it to be accepted at elevators and crush plants owned by major grain companies. ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Parrish & Heimbecker, Paterson GlobalFoods, Richardson International, and Viterra have all said they will not take canola treated with quinclorac in 2016.
The issue with quinclorac-treated canola goes back to last year, when some farmers had already applied it to their canola before they were made aware of potential problems marketing it, so grain companies tried to work with them to minimize the impact.
“This year everybody should know. There shouldn’t be any confusion about whether canola treated with quinclorac is going to be accepted in the elevator system,” stresses Wade Sobkowich, speaking for the major grain companies in Western Canada as the executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association.
While the industry’s directive to canola growers for 2016 is simple, the situation unfolding as the growing season begins is not.
That’s mainly because Saskatoon-based Great Northern Growers (GNG) has gone ahead with selling its generic quinclorac herbicide known as “Clever” for use this summer. The herbicide is also registered for cereal crops, but it’s been marketed for its control of cleavers in canola.
From its perspective, GNG says it has not received a “satisfactorily fact-based answer as to why Clever was singled out…” and that the company finds itself “advocating on behalf of the Canadian canola producers who desperately need quinclorac technology to deal with their growing cleaver infestations.” Farmers hoping to use Clever to manage cleavers are also seeking an explanation.
So why won’t grain companies accept quinclorac-treated canola from the 2016 crop?
As Sobkowich outlines in the interview above, it boils down to quinclorac being a residual herbicide and the risk that China will reject canola treated with it.
There are multiple factors considered in determining whether a crop protection product is acceptable, he explains, including: how the chemical adheres to the kernel of the grain or oilseed; the likelihood that it shows up in exports; how many acres it will be used on; whether an export market has established a maximum residue limit (MRL) for the active ingredient, and the size of the market.
Some products may still be allowed when a market doesn’t have MRLs established because they aren’t detectable or the market is not significant in size, notes Sobkowich. For quinclorac, its residual nature means it would likely be detectable, and China is a major customer, importing about one third of the canola grown in Canada.
“We know (China) will raise issues from time to time,” he says. “We don’t have anything in writing, no high level official decision that says they won’t be testing for it, so we have to proceed on the basis that they can and will test for it at some point.”
“That’s a major risk to take, to send canola treated with a product they haven’t approved to them, because if they do choose to test for it, we could have major issues. We could end up with a situation where we have many cargoes rejected and we could jeopardize our ability to continue to sell into that market,” says Sobkowich.
Farmers who misdeclare, whether intentionally or by mistake, could be held liable for delivering quinclorac-treated canola into the grain handling system. Grain companies will be testing for it periodically and will test samples back to the primary elevator if its found, he says.
“They will eventually find out which producer or producers delivered that canola with quinclorac and that farmer could be held liable if damages were realized, or could be held liable for costs associated with taking a different price on the canola because it had to be diverted to a different market,” explains Sobkowich.
Unlike last year, grain companies will not be accommodating growers who applied quinclorac to canola, he says.
“There shouldn’t be anybody out there that doesn’t know that quinclorac on canola is not going to be accepted.”