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Agriculture This Week - Future of minor crops a concern

It seems increasingly crops come and go when it comes to what Canadian Prairie farmers grow.

It seems increasingly crops come and go when it comes to what Canadian Prairie farmers grow.

Certainly over the years a number of new crops have burst on the scene with the promise of helping farmers diversify, only to fade quickly away when markets prove difficult to access or develop.

But even crops which have long been part of the cropping mix fluctuate in terms of relevance on the Prairies. We have seen hard spring wheat relegated to a crop of convenience. It is now seen as a reliable, if not preferred, cereal crop for rotations, but has slipped from being the foundation of farms here, that role now solidly taken by canola.

Most other crops have become largely niche ones, grown by farmers when the market signals flash that demand might spike enough to make them attractive.

Or, grown in limited acres to meet specific niche markets particular producers have secured.

The issue moving forward will be whether research will keep pace in many crops in terms of varietal development to meet the needs of a changing agricultural landscape.

While big companies are quite happy to research canola, soybeans, and corn, all high-value, huge acre crops ensuring the chance to recoup developmental investment dollars, they are less likely to focus attention or dollars on minor acre crops.

Producers of course do play a role in research with organizations focusing attention on the specific needs of particular crops, and in a number of cases funding research through sales check-offs.

The issue will be if the small crop organizations survive in order to continue the work they have been doing.

In at least one case the writing may be on the wall. After 32 years of representing the interests of the flax sector, the Flax Council of Canada’s Executive Committee recently announced the closure of its office in Winnipeg, effective Jan. 31.

The Flax Council of Canada is a national organization, funded by a voluntary export levy. Established in 1986, the Flax Council promotes the advancement of Canadian flax and flax products including nutritional and industrial uses in domestic and international markets.

The organization has said it will continue to operate on a reduced service basis, but the closure is not a good sign.

While this has to be worrisome for the flax sector specifically, it should be a concern over the broader agriculture sector in terms of what may happen in terms of small crop developments in the years ahead.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.