The story of canola production in Canada is a great example of how private industry investment in breeding and biotechnology, coupled with an industry wide focus on improved agronomic practices, can lead to enhanced farm profitability generated by increased yields.
Canola is a “made–in-Canada” success story. Canola was originally called rapeseed and was produced for the industrial lubricant market from the 1940s to 1960s. In the 1960s, public sector Canadian scientists modified the oil profile to produce “double low rapeseed.” The name of the modified grain in Canada was formally changed to “canola” in 1974.
During these years, the yield gains were modest as the public breeders dealt with the impact of the modified oil. The demand for canola for human consumption (now that the oil profile had been modified) increased acreage, but the yields farmers saw on their farms did not push past 20 bushels per acre.
Private investment in canola breeding began in the early 1980s, and with more investment came increased annual genetic gain. The first private canola variety was registered in 1984. With the dawn of the private investment era, yields began to increase.
In 1995, the first herbicide-tolerant canola, called Clearfield®canola, was introduced. This was quickly followed by Bayer’s Liberty Link®-tolerant canola and Monsanto’s Roundup®Ready canola. With better weed control came increased yields, and yield gains during this era jumped from 1.35 percent to 2.8 percent per year.
In late 1990, we entered the canola market with an ownership position in Limagrain’s canola germplasm. Over time, we assumed 100 percent control of this open-pollinated breeding program and in 2004 acquired Advanta’s canola breeding program to gain access to hybrid breeding technology.
Other breeding programs also converted their systems to hybrid development and since that time an average yield gain of 4.3 percent per year has been recorded. The market has quickly adopted hybrid, herbicide-tolerant canola and with this advanced technology, we’ve seen an industry focusing on maximizing the genetic potential of these hybrids through the best agronomic practices.
Our role in this growth has been significant. The strategy of broadly licensing the Roundup Ready trait has provided farmers with the option of purchasing top performing hybrids in their brand of choice. As acres have increased, the focus on improved disease resistance has become vital to ensuring this crop can be grown sustainably in Western Canada. Diseases such as blackleg, sclerotinia and clubroot are major issues that are now being dealt with by an industry that continues to innovate and bring solutions and recommendations to farmers.
The global demand for canola is surging, and the industry is trying to determine if it can sustainably produce 25 million metric tons of production – an increase of 10 million metric tons (MMT’s) over the current projected demand.
While the annual yield growth rate in Canada has been impressive for the past year, 2012 was a reminder of the ongoing challenges that growers face. In some parts of the country, excessive moisture was a challenge. In other parts of the country, excessive heat and new levels of disease pressure took a toll on yields. Nevertheless, with the high rate of investment in discovering and developing better seeds and agronomic management practices, the future is bright for Canadian canola farmers.
We continue to invest in Canadian canola and work hard to achieve that production objective. In 2010, we opened a $12 million breeding center at the University of Manitoba Smartpark in Winnipeg, MB. This LEED-certified facility houses the latest scientific tools of molecular breeding. We also made significant investments ($3 million) in our Crop Technology Centre in Saskatoon to field test the line-up of new canola hybrids being brought to market under the DEKALB®brand name.
To meet the expected demand for canola seed, a state-of–the-art canola manufacturing facility was opened in Lethbridge, Alberta in 2012. This $15 million facility conditions canola seed to ensure DEKALB brand products meet our high quality standards.
The story of canola is proof positive that our investments in seed technologies are delivering results for farmers and improving both their economic and environmental sustainability. Farmers all over the world can be confident that we’re looking for the next innovation that will help increase their yields and enhance their ability to help feed the world.
This report is excerpted from Monsanto’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Report. The entire report is available at Monsanto.com.