This year's canola crop is the most expensive ever planted, say Alberta farmers

Input costs for growing canola has skyrocketed, making this one of the most expensive canola crop Alberta farmers have ever planted.

Fuel and fertilizer costs have skyrocketed across Canada

A canola field near Olds, Alta. In just a few decades, canola has become one of the world's most important oilseed crops. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

There is a lot riding on this year's canola crop in Alberta, according to the producers who plant and harvest it. 

Last summer's heat wave caused significant challenges across Western Canada, and some farmers in Alberta say they are hoping to take advantage of this year's high prices to make up for previous losses.

"This is by far the most expensive crop we've ever grown," said Roger Chevaux, farmer and chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. 

Input costs for growing the crop have skyrocketed but Chevaux also said he's never seen canola sell this high in his 35 years of farming.

Last year, canola was selling at around $12 per bushel, Chevaux said. This year, it's at $25. 

Chevaux's fertilizer costs are at $2,300 per tonne — up from $850 last year. Fuel prices, including diesel, have also surged since last year. In the last month alone, a litre of diesel has climbed by 35 cents.

"We've got more at risk this year than we've ever had before," Chevaux said on CBC's Edmonton AM

The war in Ukraine is one of the factors driving up canola prices said Erin Harakal, a commodity broker with Agfinity. 

Ukraine is a large producer of sunflower oil and some people might be turning to canola oil to make up the shortage, said Chevaux. Russia is also a major global supplier of fertilizers, but shipments to Canada are now restricted due to trade sanctions. 

With high canola prices, Harakal said some producers are hesitant to sell. Instead, they are hoping to get an even better price the next day. 

"There's a fear of missing out," she said.

LISTEN | What the end of China's restrictions means for Alberta canola producers:

Last week, China lifted its three year ban on Canadian canola. 

In March 2019, the Chinese government blocked canola shipments from Canadian companies Richardson International Ltd. and Viterra Inc. by suspending their licences, alleging the detection of pests in canola shipments. 

The restrictions followed the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. 

Chevaux said having open trade is crucial for Alberta canola producers.

It's possible that China opening its markets to Canadian canola again could drive up prices even higher, he said. 

"It's always good to have more competitors out there to compete for our product," said Chevaux.

Before China restricted trade, the Chinese market made up 40 per cent of Canada's canola exports. 

While Chevaux is hopeful for the future of canola in Alberta, he does worry about the recent ban of Huawei from working on Canada's fifth-generation network over security concerns. 

The move puts Canada in line with key intelligence allies like the United States, which have expressed concerns about the national security implications of giving the Chinese tech giant access to key infrastructure.

"Our hope, of course, is the Chinese government doesn't react and punish us again," said Chevaux. 

"But I guess time will tell." 

Last weekend, Chevaux finished seeding his canola crop at his farm in Killam, Alta., roughly 168 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. Further north, he said farmers might be waiting to finish seeding due to rain. But in southern Alberta, conditions are dry. 

"We're always hoping for the rain to come at the right time for us to get a good crop."


Liam Harrap

Associate producer

Liam Harrap is a journalist at CBC Edmonton. He likes to find excuses to leave the big city and chase rural stories. Send story tips to him at liam.harrap@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press