Organic Grain Marketing Tips
  • In formulating 2019 planting intentions, look within each crop class and compare market prospects based on supply and demand. For example, of the various organic cereal crop options, spring and durum wheat have stronger long-term demand prospects than barley. Lentil markets are much quicker to be oversupplied than yellow peas.
  • When dealing in less than truckload quantities, talk to your organic neighbours about shipping grain together. Just make sure everyone agrees on the quality based on representative samples before loading your grain together with someone else’s.
  • It's time to start thinking about getting your organic and transition crops tested for pesticide residues. It's starting to be requested by some buyers already, and many more are seriously considering it, due to the mounting media and consumer pressure on food companies for safer tolerances. New markets for transition organic grain are likely to require samples and shipments meet a maximum residue limit (MRL) in order to qualify for a premium.

Non-GMO Canola Outlook

Market researchers presenting at the Organic and Non-GMO Forum held last month in St. Louis discussed several issues around the popular ‘Non-GMO Project’ food label. For years it has been the highest-ranked consumer-facing food label in the U.S. market. Consumers associate a greater value with foods that carry the butterfly than they do any other food label claim, including USDA Organic.

New studies suggest that almost half of consumers incorrectly believe that the ‘Non-GMO Project’ label means that food item is essentially the same as ‘organic’. This represents a serious threat for certified organic farms and food sellers, who incur significantly greater restrictions and higher costs than producers of non-GMO foods. This misconception is also helping to fuel steady growth in demand for non-GMO food ingredients including canola oil.  

Non-GMO canola value chains enjoy economies of scale and a relatively efficient cost structure for a niche ingredient, and they are dominated by big players in the grain industry. North America has the capacity to process non-GMO canola seed in cold-press plants rather than forcing it through a hexane-extraction process. Going forward it will be important for cold-press crush capacity to keep pace with demand and non-GMO canola production in order to maintain market share, because of growing consumer concerns around hexane used in the production of vegetable oils.

The vast majority of non-GMO canola produced in western Canada is Clearfield, a variety developed through mutagenesis. This is not the same as genetic modification, but it is somewhat similar to gene-editing technology, which has been rejected under the organic and non-GMO standards. The values of consumers who buy non-GMO labeled foods favor traditional breeding and saving of seed, leading us to conclude that mutagenesis is likely to come under review at some point.
The Macroeconomic Case for Profitable Organic Field Cropping
While the number of Canadian farms transitioning into organic remains low, there is growth and it is ramping up. Existing organic farms are expanding, conventional farms are shifting portions of their land into organic and some are doing so in a significant way. There are cases of large-scale commercial farms starting to convert thousands of acres per year.

The 2 main reasons are environmental and economic. Public pressure for new restrictions on pesticide use are changing market allowances and attracting more regulatory attention, by some provinces and federal bodies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Many farmers are likewise becoming more concerned about soil health and the overuse of pesticides.

In many cases, organic farming appears more profitable than conventional, especially when comparing industrial to regenerative soil systems over a long period (i.e. 5-10 years). The markets for organic grain remain somewhat thin and illiquid, but demand is very strong and continuing on the path of double-digit annual growth, both in North America and around the world. The supply of organic grain could ramp up significantly in the next few years with little impact on price.

The opportunity for western Canada to lead in new organic grain production growth is essentially a market-share play. With upwards of 60% of U.S. organic grain usage made up of offshore imports, over a million tonnes per year of domestic North American grain purchasing could be diverted to Canadian-origin organic without disruption to the supply/demand balance.

What's New in Soil Profiling

It’s estimated that only around 20% of fields in western Canada have representative soil samples taken and analyzed annually. In this day and age, with crop inputs so expensive, and variable rate technology widely available, that percentage seems likely to climb.

Heading into an organic system makes soil analysis even more critical. Decades of intensive cropping activities may have left fields depleted and degraded in biology and micronutrients. Restoring balance and healthy populations of the helpful life forms under the ground takes many years in most cases, even after the field officially moves into transition.

The only thing that ‘going organic’ provides agronomically is the removal of toxic synthetic substances from being applied. Soil health restoration is a much grander process.

Organic matter is arguably the most important variable to monitor and track over time. It’s a proxy for other crucial biological interactions being able to take place between the crop, the air and the soil.

The more soil organic matter there is the field, the better it drains and the more carbon it holds. Eventually we believe that showing an increase in soil organic matter could qualify farms for government subsidies. In the meantime there are numerous other equally important short-term payoffs.   

Zone profiling may prove more efficacious than grid sampling for collecting, analyzing and mapping the soil. Topography, electro-conductivity mapping and other factors can be used to identify large zones with similar soils, and sampling sites identified within. Profiling by zone is said to provide just as good of an overall picture, but at a more reasonable cost than grid-based field analysis, because it involves far fewer samples to be taken and analyzed.

We're happy to help.

Have further questions? Drop us a line by emailing our founder, Brenda Tjaden at or visit our website at

Copyright © 2018. Sustainable Grain Inc. All rights reserved.

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Sustainable Grain · Box 4 Group 3 · Dugald, Mb R0E0K0 · Canada

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