For the first time, Canada seeds more canola than wheat

Canola has overtaken wheat as Canada’s top crop in terms of acres seeded. Meanwhile, wheat seeded in Saskatchewan fell for the fourth straight year.

Farmers planted 22.8 million acres worth of the oil seed crop in 2017

Canola has taken over as the top-seeded crop in Canada. (Shutterstock)

As Canada turns 150, its oil seed is crowned king.

Canola, a Canadian creation, has overtaken wheat as the nation's top crop, in terms of acres seeded this year.

Canadian farmers seeded 22.8 million acres worth of the oil seed crop in 2017, according to a June 29 report from Statistics Canada.

Canola also dethroned wheat in Saskatchewan for the first time, where farmers put in 12.6 million acres of canola: a provincial increase of nearly 14 per cent from 2016.

Meanwhile, wheat seeded in Saskatchewan fell for the fourth straight year to 11.3 million acres.

Canola is a Canadian invention and was developed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Canola is a fairly new crop," said Janice Tranberg, executive director of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission.

"We're still going to need cereals and all the other crops in our rotation, but canola is one they've [producers have] found to be really exciting and providing a good return."

Regional differences

For some producers, seeding canola is nothing new. Terry Pegg has been farming near Porcupine Plain, Sask., 240 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, since 1984. He said canola has always been a part of his rotation.

"We can't grow lentils, we can't grow durum — because our maturity days are so short — so canola is basically our biggest cash crop."

Pegg said he rotates between seeding canola, wheat, barley and peas to avoid pests and diseases.

"If you could seed canola every year, a lot of guys would be happy," he said with a chuckle.

Saskatchewan seeded 12.6 million acres of canola in 2017.

For growers in other parts of the province, the crop has become more attractive over time.

"Back in the '80s it wasn't very popular," said James Zimmer, who has been farming near Major, Sask., near the Alberta border, for about 45 years.

He said during that period, hot, dry growing seasons took the profit out of canola, which requires a lot of moisture. He said wheat used to account for around 75 per cent of the crops grown in his area.

A combination of more robust canola varieties and cooler, wetter summers has led to more farmers adopting the crop as a staple, he said. Canola now accounts for about half of what he seeds.

But if wheat prices make a long-term comeback, farmers in the Major area might consider switching back to take advantage of lower risk and input costs, he said.

Near Major, the crops are looking good, said Zimmer. Still, he'll be watching the weather, what with hot temperatures in the forecast.

"We're going to have to keep getting some rains in order to get a decent canola crop," he said.

Canola was developed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba throughout the 1960s and 1970s.