Saskatchewan

Sask.'s mustard farmers suffered in 2021, and now their pain is being felt around the world

A difficult 2021 for farmers in Western Canada has resulted in a mustard shortage in Europe this year, but there are promising signs that issues will be resolved in the coming months. 

Province grows about 80% of Canada's mustard crop

Saskatchewan is Canada's largest producer of mustard seed. (CBC)

A difficult 2021 for farmers in Western Canada has resulted in a mustard shortage in Europe this year, but there are promising signs that issues will be resolved in the coming months. 

"We are expecting things to remain tight for a while when it comes to mustard as a result of last year's harvest."  said Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University's agri-food analytics lab. 

Canada is the world's second-largest producer of mustard seeds, just behind Nepal, and holds 57 per cent of the global export market.

Saskatchewan is a key part of that with the province historically growing about 80 per cent of the nation's mustard crop. 

But a shift in planting as well as a drought means the global supply of mustard is smaller than normal. 

Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University's agri-food analytics lab, says he expects the mustard supply to remain tight for a while as a result of the poor 2021 harvest. (Radio-Canada)

According to data from the Canadian Grain Commission, last year Alberta and Saskatchewan seeded just over 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of mustard in 2021.

That's a drop of about 25 per cent compared with the 10-year average of 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres). 

"We were off the mark a little bit," said Rick Mitzel, the executive director of Sask Mustard.

"We'd have probably been OK had we not had the drought last year. So then when you throw a drought on top of it, all of a sudden you've got a pretty major supply issue."

The farmers in Canada's Prairies felt the heat from last year's drought in their bank accounts, Mitzel said. 

He believe the farmers' yields — and therefore their revenues — were cut in half. 

However, the lack of mustard is being felt the most in Europe. 

People in France consume nearly a kilogram of mustard per person each year, making them the largest consumer in the world.

"It affects a lot of different people, whereas here it's more just a casual use. But over there it's something they do every day," Mitzel said. "[It's] almost a staple part of their diet."

Charlebois agrees. 

He says people in France and Europe have been feeling the effects of the supply crunch for a while now. 

An aerial photo shows people standing in a crop field.
The 2022 mustard crop looks much bigger than last year's harvest. (CBC)

North American consumers may only feel the effects later in the year — if at all — as we consume far less mustard than other parts of the globe, Charlebois said. 

"The reality in Canada is that we are a huge exporter of mustard seeds, but we process very little of it. We buy mustard seeds back in a bottle 20 times the price," Charlebois said. 

Fortunately, this year's crop in Saskatchewan and Alberta appears to be in much better shape, according to Mitzel. 

Once the crop starts to be harvested and then sold to processors, Mizel says, the supply crunch should start to ease. 

"The harvest itself is going to start probably in the next four to six weeks, and then the crop will move from the farm to the processors along that line."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's David Bell and The Canadian Press

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