Organic crop conditions vary, as prices to shift upward

One grain merchant has noticed an uptick in demand for gluten-free organic oats which carries a premium compared to regular organic oats. Photo: Greg Berg

By Glen Hallick
Glacier FarmMedia staff

With the severity of the drought across most of Western Canada this summer, it’s a given that grain prices will push higher, including those for organic grains, oilseeds and pulses. In Ontario, the story has been much different with the province’s growing region receiving enough rain to prevent any sort of drought.

With very little of the organic crops having been harvested so far on the Prairies, and with the Ontario harvest underway, a number of industry participants declined to provide price quotes – citing that new crop had yet to roll in. One was Jason Freeman of Farmer Direct Co-op in Saskatchewan, who said there’s a large carryover with the 2020/21 crops.

“The market is waiting to see a better picture of the organic harvest before prices begin to be set, but there will be an appreciation of prices,” he commented.

“It’s just like the conventional, something has to happen. It’s inevitable there will be an increase in prices,” added Mylo Chubb of Stonehenge Global Seeds near Assiniboia, Sask., about 175 kilometers southwest of Regina.

Every time conventional prices go up, we have organic producers returning to conventionals. – Mylo Chubb

Chubb also stressed that some organic crops were written-off along with conventionals due to the drought, noting that fields west of Assiniboia to the Alberta boundary were among the hardest hit in Saskatchewan.

However, in the Weyburn to Yorkton area of Saskatchewan, crops handled the severe dryness much better, according to Dunling Wang, an organic specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture. But those in the Regina to Saskatoon and Kindersley to North Battleford areas were “pretty sad,” he added.

One thing Wang was very concerned about is the possible loss of more organic farmers switching to conventional crops.

“Every time conventional prices go up, we have organic producers returning to conventionals. About 10 per cent switched in 2019,” he said, adding that it takes about a year to really find out how many organic farmers have gone conventional.

To Scott Shiels of Grain Millers Canada Ltd. in Yorkton, Sask., the drought will generate spikes in organic pricing.

“We waited a long time through COVID-19 as demand was flat. We’ve started to see a few things perking up,” he said.

One has been brown flax, which was now on par with yellow flax, when the latter is usually C$1 to C$2 per bushel more, he said, pointing to gaps as wide as C$5 to C$6.

One crop Shiels mentioned that had a good uptick in demand was gluten-free organic oats, which carries a premium of 50 cents to C$1 per bushel compared to ‘regular’ organic oats.

“It’s an emerging market that’s starting to take-off,” he said.

As for the much needed rain Saskatchewan received over the last few weeks, it very likely won’t benefit crops going into harvest, said Chuck Leniczek of Lily and Rose Seed processors in Lemberg, Sask., about 125 km east of Regina. He said the rain will be helpful in restoring depleted soil moisture levels.

Jason Charles of Pipeline Foods estimated that 10 per cent at most of organic crops have been combined on the Prairies.

“It’s too early to tell. It will be another three weeks to a month before we know production and pricing,” he said, adding that price increases were pretty much a certainty.

I’ve heard from [organic] farmers who had their best crop ever, to farmers who did not harvest a particular crop. – Laura Telford

Crop conditions varied in Manitoba, according to organic sector development specialist Laura Telford of Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development (MARD).

“I’ve heard from [organic] farmers who had their best crop ever, to farmers who did not harvest a particular crop,” she said, indicating that forage producers in Manitoba were especially hard hit.

Some of the organic wheat may have tolerated the drought better than other crops such as oats or field peas, and it was too early to tell what yields were going to be for corn and soybeans.

Telford commented as well on pricing, “I think organic producers and organic buyers are sitting in a holding pattern right now, to see which one is going to play their hand first in terms of prices.”

The harvest was somewhat different in southern Ontario, where most of the wheat and other cereals have been combined, according to Harro Wehrmann of Wehrmann Grain and Seed Ltd. in Ripley, Ont., about 215 km northwest of Toronto.

“Only corn and soybeans are left to harvest, also edible beans and sunflowers,” he said, noting there have been quality issues but yields have been good.

About 160 km south of Ripley, in Petrolia, the harvest has been slower, according to Rita Felder of Field Farms Marketing.

“We haven’t harvested yet, but crops are looking pretty good. I would say we will have an above average year,” she commented, noting that part of southern Ontario received sufficient rainfall.

In nearby Parkhill, Andrew St. Jean of Beechwood AgriServices concurred.

“We were dry around planting time and been fairly wet since then. We’ve had plenty of moisture throughout the season,” he said.

St. Jean said there was a lull between the wheat harvest, which was finished about ago, and the rest of the crops to come off the fields.

“It’s an interesting market and we’re not putting a lot of prices out there at the moment,” he said.