Swift Current-based Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher Yantai Gan says there is a much greater diversity of crops which could be grown in dryland brown soil ecosystems than most would expect.
“In my research, we have looked at carinada, and its potential for a bio-fuel,” he says as one example. “We have also looked at hemp, quinoa, coriander— these are all smaller, marginal markets, but these are very high profitability. Those crops seem to be growing very well and doing well in the dryland brown soil zone in the Swift Current area.”
The problem isn’t that they won’t grow, says Gan, but rather it is finding the means to deliver them to international markets.
“We know these crops can be profitable, and we know they can grow well in Canada, but it can you get them to market and sell them? That’s the issue,” Gan says. “It’s all about market access. The U.S. does have processing plants and the marketing bodies, but the only thing a Canadian grower can do is make a connection down there with the Americans.”
Gan acknowledges these challenges, but says farmers also must be aware of the huge upside for some of these crops. He gives a few better known examples to explain his point.
“Coriander is profitable,” he says, “but cleaning seed and harvest are more labour-intensive. But it is still profitable at the end of the day because the market demand is high and the supply is so low. Hemp is another one where there is high demand. Lots of foods are looking for that ingredient— whether through baking or making some health food. There is a huge market in the U.S. for hemp.
“Another good example is buckwheat,” he adds. “Buckwheat is also growing very well in the Swift Current area, and my family wants to have buckwheat— and it’s $80. Five pounds of buckwheat costs me $80, and we can easily grow this in Swift Current, but there is nobody to do the marketing for it.
“Carinada is another one that is very competitive with other mustards and canola. It’s a very good oilseed crop. Chamomile also grows very well in the dryland brown soil zone, and it is no problem to grow.”
Gan expects as margins continue to tighten on more commonly grown crops like canola, wheat or pulses more farmers will be willing to give other alternatives a try. He reminds readers hardly anyone was growing lentils 20 years ago, but now it has become a staple of Canadian prairie agriculture.
“Farmers I know are already talking about potentially giving some of these newer types of crops a shot,” Gan says. “These crops have small acreage in Canada, but when you look internationally there is a huge demand. Once those market channels open, those crops should have very good success. They will make a profit and help diversify the rotation.”