Avoid growing wheat, look to other pulses, grains and oilseeds

With a lot of organic wheat already in the pipeline, buyers are urging growers to avoid the crop in 2021. Photo: iStock

By Glen Hallick
Glacier FarmMedia staff

As farmers get closer to planting their crops for 2021, or perhaps some already have, there are different takes among those in the organic grain industry as to what will be grown this year. One thing there was a consensus on was to avoid organic wheat as there’s already a lot of it.

Another thing to keep mind are crop rotations, as several of those interviewed said.

“Things won’t change much. A lot of hard red spring wheat, a lot of peas, oats, and durum. Things are rotationally-based, so not much changes from year to year,” commented Jason Charles of Pipeline Foods in Minneapolis, Minn.

Prices for organic wheat in Western Canada have dropped from the C$25 to C$30 per bushel level to as low as C$11/bu., according to Laura Telford, organic sector development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. However, she said contracts for about C$16/bu. can still be found. Telford also suggested farmers avoid growing wheat on spec and instead tie into contracts.

Jason Breault of RW Organics in Mossbank, Sask. concurred; stating it’s very unlikely there would be more acres of organic wheat planted in 2021. In fact, some growers could switch over to conventional crops because of strong prices. However, he was optimistic of what could pan out down the road.

“Prices should rebound in a year or two because of the supply and demand,” Breault said.

Abe Enns of Nutra Sun Foods Ltd. in Regina, Sask. agreed with the possible switch from organic to conventional because organic wheat prices were about C$4 to C$5 per bushel above conventional wheat.

The dynamics in Ontario are different than the Prairies… the management is a little bit more refined once you’re in organics. – Harro Wehrmann

It’s a different story in Ontario when it comes to switching in and out of organics, according to Harro Wehrmann of Wehrmann Grain and Seed Ltd. in Ripley, Ont.

“The dynamics in Ontario are different than the Prairies. In Western Canada it’s more in and out, but here the management is a little bit more refined once you’re in organics. People are not as likely to jump in and out once they have transitioned.

One crop that could see a bounce in the amount planted in Canada this year is spelt.

“They’re a niche within a niche,” commented Telford, noting that interest in spelt varies from year to year because the market is very limited.

Wehrmann was emphatic that producers should only grow spelt if they have a back-to-back contract with a buyer and avoid growing the ancient wheat on spec altogether. He declined to provide prices for spelt due to closed contracts.

Another organic crop that is likely to see increased acres in 2021 is peas, especially on the Prairies, particularly in Manitoba. Scott Shiels of Grain Millers Ltd. in Yorkton, Sask. pointed to the new pea processing plant at Portage la Prairie, Man. operated by Roquette Canada Ltd.

The recently opened Roquette plant is the world’s largest pea facility, able to process 125,000 tonnes of yellow pea per year. That includes up to 5,000 tonnes of yellow peas.

Shiels added there are strong markets for organic oats and flax in 2021, which should result in more being grown.

“It can get to be too many acres and that pushes prices the other way,” he cautioned.

Rita Felder of Field Farms Marketing in Petrolia, Ont., stressed proteins, especially for the feed market, is the way to go this year.

“We have a protein shortage because a lot of the proteins were imported in the past. The global supply chains are severely interrupted with logistical shortages of equipment,” she stated.