Advancing Quinoa

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Quinoa is still very much a small niche crop in Canada, but since the United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, it’s been gathering steam.

The ancient South American staple is now being grown commercially in Ontario as well as the three Prairie provinces, but adapting quinoa to our country’s unique growing conditions hasn’t exactly been easy.

The search for seed to produce quinoa varieties that can reliably flourish in Canada continues, and it is entrepreneurs as well as research scientists who are leading these efforts.

We talked to the producers of two made-in-Canada products — Quinta Quinoa and Amber Quinoa — about the different paths they’re taking to find right seed.

Quinta Quinoa

Jamie Draves is the founder of the Quinta Quinoa brand, which was introduced to Ontario consumers in Ontario last year.

Draves got his quinoa brand onto store shelves after appearing on CBC Television’s Dragon’s Den in 2015. He left the Den with a $200,000 investment from Canadian restaurant magnate Vikram Vij to go towards advancing a gluten-free production facility in Georgetown, Ont., and the commercialization of Quinta Quinoa.

Draves started with small group of growers in Ontario producing his quinoa and he’s begun looking to Western Canada to expand his network.

Developed through five years of industry-support research, Quinta Quinoa varieties are highly nutritious. They’ve been shown through third-party testing to be high in protein, fibre and zinc, an excellent source of iron and magnesium, and a good source of calcium.

“We are two-to-four times the nutrient value of any other quinoa on the market,” Draves says.

The company hasn’t stopped there. Draves notes that an aggressive conventional breeding program has been set up, which so far has produced 70 new varieties of quinoa. It’s hoped that some of them will be ready for commercialization in as little as three years.

“We expect quite a few of these varieties — at least five to 10 of them and potentially quite a few more — will have very unique traits that will be sought-after for specific functional food market purposes,” Draves says.

According to Draves, the new varieties have different potential strengths. “We are opening discussions with growers and companies around the world to help them develop superior seeds to the ones they already have, and many of them are looking for something different,” he says.

“With quinoa being such a high nutrient provision for people’s diets, it’s exciting to be able to be in a position to be able to help make superior natural types available.”

Draves says the focus of the breeding program is on producing higher yields as well as expanding the choice of different-coloured offerings and beefing up the nutrient content of Quinta Quinoa even further.

“We continue to push the envelope with our all seeds,” he says. “We have strong research relationships with the University of Guelph, which is looking at non-GMO DNA information that will help us to continue to naturally breed our quinoa to make it more beneficial from a yield perspective for the growers, but then also have higher nutrition for our consumers.”

Quinoa is a cool-season crop and is particularly sensitive to heat, which limits the areas of potential commercial production in Canada.

“There still is a fair amount of variability in terms of where we can grow it successfully,” Draves says. “That’s our next big step.”

Quinta Quinoa growers in southwestern and northeastern Ontario have fared well in terms of yield and quality, Draves notes. He adds the company’s quinoa production efforts in Western Canada have so far been mixed, although there were some “incredible results” in southern Alberta last year, including a record 2,000 pound-per-acre yield.

Draves’ company and its research partners are working toward achieving a better understanding of both the development stages and the phenological elements of quinoa production, in order to speed up the process of naturally breeding varieties tailored to different areas.

“That includes taking a look at using some of the newer CRISPR technologies to look at markers within the gene code that inhibit or hold back certain strengths of the crop. This will allow us from a non-GMO perspective to really better understand how we can select these natural plants, to encourage some of these more favourable traits in the different areas,” he says.

“Understanding the genome allows us to pick that best one very quickly and early. That saves a lot of time in the process and produces a superior end result.”

Amber Quinoa

Percy Phillips of Portage la Prairie, Man., has a background in agricultural engineering and in product development in ag, mining and transportation equipment. These days, much of his time is spent developing both a producer base and a market for Amber Quinoa, Phillips’ own brand of prairie-grown quinoa that’s sold at a dozen or so retail and food service locations in Manitoba.

Phillips’ interest in quinoa was sparked by a Peruvian vacation some eight years ago. He started wondering if quinoa could be a successful crop back home, and Phillips’ curiosity turned into a quest for quinoa seed that could be grown commercially in Manitoba and, eventually, the establishment of Prairie Quinoa.

Prairie Quinoa’s mission — to produce a superior and distinct Canadian quinoa — is similar to that of Quinta Quinoa’s, but Phillips has chosen a different route in his effort to get there.

“I’m an engineer, not a plant breeder, so rather than trying to develop my own variety of quinoa, I went on a search to find quinoa seed from other parts of the world that would grow here,” Phillips says.

For the past three years, Phillips has been trying out different types of quinoa, not only in his own plots but also through ongoing variety evaluation trials at Manitoba Crop Diversification Centres in different areas of the province.

“It has cost me a lot of time, effort and money to locate the seed,” says Phillips, who has sourced his quinoa seed from South America as well as the U.S.

Amber Quinoa has been Phillips’ most successful variety and is the one that’s now being produced commercially. He’s looking for more Manitoba producers to try their hand at growing the crop for Prairie Quinoa this year.

Phillips says the potential advantages Manitoba holds for quinoa production include long daylight hours, productive land and large field sizes, and proximity to U.S. markets. But he acknowledges that finding quinoa seed from elsewhere that will consistently perform well in Manitoba — in other words, produce a reliable, high-yielding crop — has been challenging.

According to Phillips, the first year of trials in 2014 showed quite a bit of promise, but the results were much more mixed the following two years. He believes this was due in part to moisture deficiencies and weather anomalies in the testing areas.

Craig Linde of Manitoba Agriculture has been overseeing the quinoa trials at the crop diversification centres. “From year to year the variability has been quite high, which I think is essentially the main takeaway with regard to quinoa right now,” he says.

According to Phillips, quinoa has a vast genetic pool, with some 5,000 different varieties in Peru and Bolivia alone. Because of this diversity, Phillips believes discovering the right types of seed to fuel a successful commercial quinoa industry in Manitoba is likely only a matter of time.

Prairie Quinoa is prepared to keep looking — new varieties will continue to be assessed in Phillips’ fields and in more government evaluation trials this year.

“Certainly there is room for quinoa to be grown as a crop in Canada,” Phillips says. “We just need to find the commercially viable varieties and a model to produce it.”

Will Pot Slow Demand for Barley Varieties?

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Aaron Onio, a malting specialist with the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC), works with germinating malt at the CMBTC pilot malt plant in Winnipeg, Man. (Photo: CMBTC)

With the Trudeau government poised to fulfill its pledge to legalize marijuana, questions are being raised about what this could mean for alcohol sales in Canada.

Reports in recent months are predicting Canada’s beer market will take a hit when recreational marijuana becomes legally available. Is this a cause for concern for malt barley, a key ingredient in making beer?

Peter Watts is the managing director of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, a non-profit organization set up to provide technical assistance to the malting barley and brewing industries. He’s among those in the malting barley business who don’t view legalized pot as a significant threat.

“I believe it will have a minimal impact on malting barley production and demand for Canadian malting barley,” he says.

While Watts feels it’s too early to tell what the long-term fallout of legalized cannabis on the beer industry might be, he thinks its impact on beer sales would have to be “pretty significant” to affect Canada’s malting barley industry. That’s because it relies so heavily on exports.

Similarly, Watts doesn’t anticipate there being much effect on plant breeding efforts to produce better varieties and other R&D initiatives for the crop.

“In most grain products, Canada is by far and away a net exporter and that’s true in the case of our malting barley, where the bulk of the production is sent to other countries, either in the form of bulk malting barley or in the form of processed malt,” he says.

According to Watts, only about a sixth of malting barley grown in this country is used in Canada. Because of that, he says, a decline in domestic beer consumption would likely have a fairly limited impact on the nation’s malting barley production.

Brent Johnson, a malt barley grower near Strasbourg, Sask. who’s also the vice-chair of Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission, agrees.

“If beer sales were to decline, which would require less malt, that would have an impact,” he says. “But Canada isn’t the biggest market for our malt barley — it’s only a small portion of it.”

Johnson says another key consideration is the majority of the malting barley grown in Canada isn’t actually used to produce the malt necessary for beer production — most of it is used as feed for beef cattle and other livestock.

“Only a small portion of what we grow is accepted for malt,” says Johnson, who estimates this accounts for around 20 per cent of total malt barley production.

For these reasons, both Johnson and Watts believe legalized pot likely wouldn’t affect malting barley seed sales all that much, at least in the short term.

Johnson believes if there was a reduction in malt uptake due to lower beer consumption in Canada, it could affect malting barley R&D down the road, although the impact likely wouldn’t be huge.

“I don’t see it in the short-term, though,” he says. “I haven’t been shown any evidence yet that’s really going to make me concerned.”

Migrating to Marijuana

Exactly how legalized pot would affect Canada’s beer market and demand for malt barley varieties, both initially and over the long term, has been the subject of much speculation.

A study by Canadian business consulting firm Deloitte posits that the legalization of marijuana would cut into beer and other alcohol sales across Canada.

According to Recreational Marijuana: Insights and Opportunities, about 80 per cent of current cannabis consumers rarely or never mix the drug with alcohol. The study also indicates marijuana users are also drawn to drug for the same reason people choose alcohol — to have fun or help connect with others.

“Taken together, these two findings suggest a potential for some current beverage alcohol consumers to migrate away from that category and toward marijuana when it becomes legal,” the study states.

Deloitte vice-chair Mark Whitmore, who co-authored the report, says 5,000 Canadians were interviewed for the study, which predicts up to 39 per cent of Canadian adults would be consuming cannabis (some regularly but others infrequently) when it becomes legal.

The report’s findings were also based on data from U.S. states where recreational marijuana has been legalized.

“Marijuana is going to have an impact on the alcohol industry here,” he says. “The data [in the U.S.] shows that as cannabis comes onto the market, it does start to erode away market share, particularly in beer.”

Peter Schwartz is a consultant with Anderson Economic Group, a business consulting firm in New York. He predicts that in the first year of legalization, recreational cannabis would drain $70 million from Canada’s beer market, worth about $9.2 billion.

That’s only a small portion — less than one per cent of the total beer market — but that number would rise in subsequent years as marijuana use expands in Canada, according to Schwartz.

“Because of the infancy of the cannabis products industry, it’s going to take some time to grow,” says Schwartz, adding that it would be up against a very well established beer industry as well as strong wine and spirits sectors in Canada. Over time, however, he expects sustained growth for the marijuana market and says it could happen quickly.

Schwartz based his projections on alcohol sales in U.S. states where recreational marijuana is either fully or partially legalized. Factors in Canada such as spending patterns, income and demographic data were also taken into account.

Breathing Life into Flax

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Helen Booker is a breeder with the only flax breeding program in Western Canada, located at the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon.

With only one public breeding program left for the crop in Western Canada, flax researchers are trying to get growers to adopt the latest genetics and help usher in a renaissance for this valuable product.

You might forgive Helen Booker for feeling a little lonely these days. As a member of the only public flax breeding program left in Western Canada, she’s always anxious to chat about flax.

“It’s not exactly a money-making business, breeding and developing cultivars for these smaller, self-pollinating crops,” says Booker, flax breeder and Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program chair at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) in Saskatoon.

The handful of breeding programs for flax that once existed in Canada have been whittled down to two — a small one in Quebec, and the other at the CDC. Flax is a crop that, despite its increasing popularity in a variety of foods, is often considered a niche product, and overshadowed by the likes of wheat, canola, corn and soybeans.

Flax acreage in Canada declined to 925,000 acres in 2016 after experiencing steady increases in the previous four years and reaching 1.6 million acres in 2015. The decline in 2016 was primarily due to tremendous increases in pea and lentil acres in Saskatchewan and Alberta, notes Don Kerr, recently retired president of the Flax Council of Canada.

Crop alternatives like canola and soybeans in Manitoba in particular have impacted flax acres as well, he says. That’s partly because other countries have hopped on the flax-growing bandwagon, and also because farmers are switching to other crops like canola and soybeans.

That’s odd, considering Canada is the world’s leader in the production and export of flax, according to the Flax Council of Canada — a position it has held since 1994. In 2014-15, Canada produced about 875,000 metric tons and exported about 80 per cent of it, according to Statistics Canada. In 2015-16, Canadian flax production totalled 940,000 metric tons.

Canada is also the first country in the world to allow a health-related claim for flaxseed for use on food labels, linking ground whole flaxseed to lower cholesterol — a major risk factor for heart disease. This claim is one of only a dozen deemed to meet the rigorous scientific criteria established by Health Canada.

Those are major honours for any crop. So why is there less flax breeding happening in Canada?

“There’s more than a dozen cultivars registered for production in Canada, but flax growers are maybe growing a couple of them. Seed companies can’t make money selling certified seed — there’s just not enough revenue in it,” Booker says. “There’s no real comprehensive business plan for these smaller crops where farmers are able to save the seed and replant it, and they don’t have to go and buy seed every year.”

That leaves breeders like Booker with a problem. She needs to work hard to ensure Canada remains a world leader in flax, and doing that means improving the crop for the future and continuing the introduction of new lines. At the same time, older varieties of flax — CDC Bethune, first registered 19 years ago and the most popular one in Canada — continue to hang on and dominate the marketplace.

Booker and the CDC put forward a single flax line earlier this year at the meeting of the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC), and it was recommended for registration. FP2513 shows an impressive yield bump — 117 per cent of CDC Bethune in the Zone 1 longer-growing season black and grey soils of Western Canada, where the majority of flax acres are located. That’s significant, but Booker isn’t holding her breath that the new line will become king of the flax world anytime soon.

“We’re trying to move farmers away from Bethune and adopt some of the newer genetics, but it’s not easy,” she says.

Part of the issue, she acknowledges, is that flax just hasn’t made the same yield gains as other crops over time, so it can be hard to get growers excited about a new variety when they have seed from the old standbys like Bethune and CDC Sorrel on hand and ready to put in the ground. Farmers love the agronomics of those varieties, she notes.

According to Kofi Agblor, managing director of the CDC, part of the solution is to make the flax program more efficient and by creating new flax varieties that will be better positioned to be adopted by growers. The CDC recently commissioned a study of its flax program, which came up with a number of recommendations for how to make the program better.

“It’s what works on the farm that we’re now focusing on,” he says.

Flax faces many of the same challenges as barley when it comes to sluggish adoption of new varieties, Agblor points out, so it’s not alone among crops that have a hard time against newer genetics adopted in the marketplace.

“If you look at 2016, CDC Copeland was the No. 1 variety of malt barley. That variety is almost 20 years old. The return on investment for barley is lower than for wheat, and because the adoption isn’t there, you can spend a lot of money to bring newer varieties to the marketplace and not have the uptake to really make it worthwhile.”

The solution? Avoid the temptation to put forward a new line of flax unless it shows a significant gain in yield or possesses an economically important trait.

“Otherwise, what you end up doing is just littering the market with varieties no one is picking up,” Agblor says.

“What needs to happen is we need to create new varieties that do two things: fulfill the needs of farmers in terms of yield, disease resistance and such, and fulfill the needs of the end users, like improvements in oil quantity and the like. This way you select only lines that will make the cut, and that results in a much more efficient use of resources.”

That was the thinking last year, when the CDC put forward only one line at the PGDC meetings, and it’s that kind of thinking that will help flax succeed in the marketplace, notes Kerr.

“Growers are choosing what gives them the best bang for their buck. Yield has always been an issue with flaxseed, but growers were seeing 27 bushels per acre last year with flax, which is pretty good,” he says. “I think the work we’re doing as a sector has contributed to that, and it’s not just genetics — part of that is getting information about best management practices out there.”

Muffins, India and the Future of Flax

According to Kerr, despite the drop-off in Canadian flax acres, the crop is well positioned to experience a renaissance all its own.

“We’ll see a rebound in acres next year. In terms of markets, we have a good story to tell about flaxseed,” he says.

The Health Canada claim, he says, has gone a long way to boosting the crop’s profile. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has added flax muffins to the menu in many of its personal care homes and hospital sites. In 2016, an estimated 50,000 muffins were served in the health region. The muffin’s appearance on the menu began in September of last year, after consultation with the Flax Council.

Three other foods made with ground flaxseed were created and tested at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie — a bread, smoothie mix and nutrition bar.

The Flax Council also embarked on a trip to China in April 2017. Chinese demand has been growing steadily over the past number of years, says Kerr, and he wants to ensure Canadian flax is in front of them.

“We could see our exports bounce back. Europe is a major market, and we might see some increases there this year. There’s also growing demand in India. They grow some flax there, but not in any great quantity. Our pulse industry is benefiting from shipments to India, and I think flax will as well. We’re also looking at Mexico and markets like that, where we can see some positive growth.”

For Agblor, there is indeed a good story to tell about flax. A recent economic assessment the CDC conducted of its plant breeding program showed a $6 return to the farmer for every $1 the CDC invests in flax development.

“That’s impressive. It sounds low, but that’s because there’s such few acres. What we need is to convince people to grow more flax, and to do that we need a method of capturing the value of the varieties in the marketplace,” he says.

“If you buy certified seed once and you re-use the seed for the next six years, where does the money come from to develop a new variety that has better yield? That’s a discussion we have to have industry-wide. A lot of our breeders have to run around to get money to get that work done. They spend a lot of time filling out applications and looking for funding.”

The advent of new products, like the new flax being developed by the California-based Cibus expected to be released in 2019, could also raise the profile of the crop. Cibus’ new non-transgenic, glyphosate-tolerant flax product will offer improved yields for flax farmers and promises healthier flax-based oils for consumers, according to the company.

It also provides a gateway-enabling development platform that can be used for additional non-transgenic trait development in flax, notes Jim Radtke, the company’s senior vice-president of product development. He spoke about the product at the PGDC meeting in Winnipeg in February 2017. It uses Cibus’ non-transgenic Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) to make gene edits to plants, a technology it’s also using in canola, rice and potato.

The Canadian flax market is in need of an effective weed control package for flax, and that’s why the Flax Council of Canada with the support of the federal government has partially funded the development of this crop. According to Agblor, germplasm from the CDC was used to help develop it.

“It was really exciting to see glyphosate tolerant flax in a greenhouse. Flax doesn’t like glyphosate at all, so we’ve clearly made significant progress,” Radtke says.

Mustard: Little Seed on the Prairie

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Starting with only 40 hectares of mustard crops in Alberta in 1936, Canada has now become the world’s largest exporter of this ancient condiment. How? Simple: the Canadian prairies have ideal conditions for the drought-resistant, cool-weather crop.

Today, research is focussed on producing varieties fine-tuned for improved nutritional benefits. The hub for much of this research is the Saskatoon Research and Development Centre. Here, scientists have created new yellow and brown mustard varieties with reduced oil and increased protein content.

Canadian mustard’s uses extend far beyond food, as well. From environmentally friendly pesticides, to a bio-diesel additive, to a natural fertilizer, the world will soon see even more advanced applications for Canadian mustard. But don’t fret: making sure hot dogs and hamburgers have that extra zip will always be a top priority.

Ag facts

  • Canada is the world’s largest producer of mustard seed.
  • The United States is Canada’s largest market accounting for nearly 50% (60,000 metric tonnes per year) of Canada’s total mustard seed exports.

Hemp, Fababeans and Ethoiopian Mustard are Making Their Mark on Alberta

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Jan Slaski and John Wolodko of Alberta Innovates Technology Futures conduct research on hemp fibre products at an Edmonton lab. Photo courtesy AITF

Niche

noun \’nich also ’n’sh or ’nish\

A distinct segment of a market

Although Jan Slaski will admit that hemp acres are still small in Alberta, don’t tell him it’s a niche crop. The researcher with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures doesn’t care for that term.

“In 2013 in Canada, we had 67,000 acres of hemp grown. In 2014, we had 108,000 acres. This 20 to 30 per cent annual increase has been observed every year over the last five or six years. Projections in Alberta and Canada are that it will grow 20 to 30 per cent every year in years to come. This increase is market driven,” he says. “To me, that doesn’t say ‘niche crop.’”

In fact, Alberta alone accounts for 30 per cent of the national hemp acreage, Slaski notes.

Indeed, hemp has gone from a specialty item to a mainstream product found commonly in the marketplace. “Eight or 10 years ago you found these products in health food stores on the bottom shelf — now you find them at Superstore and Sobeys,” Slaski adds. “This crop has been de-stigmatized. When I started working with it, people would laugh when I told them I work with hemp, because they couldn’t distinguish between marijuana and industrial hemp.”

Hemp products, of course, come from the cannabis plant — the same plant marijuana is derived from. Hemp, though, differs in that it contains virtually no Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active component in marijuana that causes psychoactive effects. Hemp became legal to grow in Canada in 1998, although it is still regulated by Health Canada and anyone wanting to grow it must apply for a license.

Grain from industrial hemp is used in food products, cosmetics, plastics and fuel. The market for hemp grain is large, with $50 million in hemp products being exported from Canada in 2014, according to Slaski. Although the market for hemp fiber isn’t as large at the moment, it’s growing fast — two hemp fibre processing facilities are currently being developed in Alberta. In mid-January, Cylab International announced its plan to move operations from China to an undisclosed location in Southern Alberta. The new facility will process hemp fibre into construction materials, animal bedding and other products.

Stemia Group Ltd., a company Alberta Innovates Tech Futures has collaborated with for five years, is building a flax and hemp straw decortication facility in Lethbridge. The company plans to make products for the construction, automotive and paper industries.

Will Van Roessel of Alberta’s Specialty Seeds Ltd. has grown hemp for five years. He produces seed varieties used to produce hemp grain, and says being in the seed business, he’s always looking for new ventures and opportunities. That’s why he began growing it.

“We had to learn a few things. The plant is very different from anything else we grow. The major concern is harvest,” he says. The height of hemp plants, and the fact that seeds can mature at different rates on the same plant, can make harvest a challenge. “Everyone has heard horror stories about how difficult hemp can be to harvest. The last couple years harvest has been pretty minimal as far as issues go.”

Optimal growing conditions make harvest easier. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), hemp responds to a well drained, loam soil with a pH (acidity) above 6.0. Neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 7.0 – 7.5) is preferred. The higher the clay contents of the soil, the lower the yield of fibre or grain produced. For optimum germination, industrial hemp seed requires good seed-to-soil contact. The seedbed should be firm, level and relatively fine; similar to that prepared for direct-seeded forages. The soil can be worked and planted as soon as the ground is dry enough to avoid compaction.

Numerous hemp varieties are available to be grown in Canada, but the most common that are being contracted and grown presently are Alyssa, Anka, CRS–1, CFX–1, CFX–2, Delores and Finola.

“Everyone wants to grow it because everyone makes money — from growers to processors,” Slaski adds. Although Alberta is No. 3 in Canada for number of hemp acres grown — Saskatchewan ranks first with Manitoba second — he says the market will only continue to grow as time goes on. “People in the past didn’t treat the crop seriously, but that has changed.”

Growing the Faba Bean

Fava beans

Faba beans are taking off in Alberta.

The faba bean was once an up-and-coming crop in Manitoba, before the soybean exploded onto the scene and took over. Leave it to Alberta to usher in a faba bean revival on the Prairies.

According to statistics from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD), faba bean acreage in Alberta nearly tripled in 2014 compared to the year before, jumping from 30,000 to 80,000 acres.

“Faba bean acreage is exploding,” says Mark Olson, head of the pulse crops unit at AARD. “Alberta has been the leader in this rebirth of the faba bean.”

The reason for the explosion in faba bean acreage? “A lot of companies have really stepped forward to market it,” Olson says. That includes Saskcan Pulse Trading and Parkland Alberta Commodities, which are marketing the beans for Alberta growers.

Much of the faba bean grown in Alberta is sold into the Middle East, where faba bean flour is widely used in sauces as well as falafel, a traditional Middle Eastern food served in a pita. The beans themselves are a popular food staple there. There are two types of faba beans — tannin varieties and low-tannin varieties. Low-tannin faba bean is often used in hog rations, while the tannin-containing varieties are used largely in food products.

Tannin also acts a natural seed protectant, Olson notes. Also, it’s a crop that doesn’t have to be heavily fertilized, he adds, because faba beans fix nitrogen and it is the highest nitrogen-fixing — approximately 90 per cent — annual grain legume globally. “As nitrogen prices increase, farmers are looking for a way to cut costs,” Olson adds.

Clifford Cyre of Westlock’s Cyre Seed Farms can attest to the benefits of faba beans. He’s been growing them for 15 years. He holds the rights to the Snowbird faba bean variety in Western Canada, a low tannin type suitable for both food and feed uses.

“The standability is excellent for thrashing,” Cyre says. “As far as combining goes, it’s very easy. The seeds are bigger, so you have to have the right equipment.”

Another benefit Cyre has noted is the fact that there’s little pest and disease pressure with faba beans. “There is one fungicide you can use for diseases on faba bean which is for sclerotinia, but we haven’t had an issue with that,” he notes.

Growers should watch herbicide residues where they plan to seed faba beans. He also advises not planting them on high nitrogen grounds, and avoiding fields with a history of having a lot of manure spread on them.

There are currently 13 faba bean varieties registered in Canada, but only two are commonly grown in Alberta. These are Malik (9-4) and Snowbird. Two new varieties, Snowdrop and Tabasco, are currently in the seed multiplication process and should be available to commercial growers in the next couple years.

Ethiopian Mustard Taking Off

Ethiopian mustard is an emerging niche crop in Alberta. Photo courtesy of Kevin Falk

Ethiopian mustard is an emerging niche crop in Alberta. Photo courtesy of Kevin Falk

It’s hard to imagine an airplane being fueled by mustard, but in 2012, the first flight of a jet aircraft powered with biofuel made entirely from Ethiopian mustard took place in Ottawa.

Ethiopian mustard — or Brassica carinata — holds tremendous promise as a biofuel and is prized as a food source in countries such as Africa. And it’s beginning to get noticed in Alberta, where it’s being tested as a startup crop in the hopes of it filling a niche market demand.

“It is quite a different animal to grow — it broadens the scope of crops that producers can look at,” says Kevin Falk, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada based in Saskatoon, Sask. He’s testing the crop in locations in southern Alberta, a province he says shows promise for growing it.

“It needs a hot, dry climate, so for it to be grown in Canada, you have to stay south,” he says. “I’ve tried growing it as far north as Beaverlodge, Alta., but it didn’t do well.”

In 2012 and 2013, carinata acres were contracted in Saskatchewan and Alberta. No Ethiopian mustard acres were contracted in 2014, however, because its exclusive Canadian distributor — Agrisoma Biosciences — put its contracting program on hold while it sought regulatory approval for its use in livestock protein. The approval was granted, and Agrisoma estimates at least 25,000 acres of Ethiopian mustard will be grown in Canada in 2015.

When processed, Ethiopian mustard oil can be used as an industrial oil suited for biofuel production. According to Falk, there’s been a focus on reducing the glucose content of the plant so it can be used as a feed ration. In Ethiopia, it’s used as a food product, as it provides flavour to food similar to that of a Dijon mustard, although less hot.

It’s a late-maturing crop, Falk notes, and takes around 10 days longer than Argentine canola to mature. White rust and blackleg are not an issue, and Falk has seen yields as good if not better than those seen with canola. It’s also heat and drought tolerant, he adds, and yields as good — if not better — than canola in the hotter, drier areas.

“It’s an up-and-coming crop that we’re going to see more of,” Falk says.

Marc Zienkiewicz