Triticale: Poised for the future
By Carolyn King
A study by the West-Central Forage Association shows triticale has important strengths as a swath grazing crop. Photo courtesy of Carla Amonson, West-Central Forage Association.
With the wrap up of the Canadian Triticale Biorefinery Initiative (CTBI), growers and industry are investigating innovative ways to move triticale forward. Here are a few examples of the potential for triticale.
Spring triticale for seed and swath grazing
Len Solick of Solick Seeds Ltd. near Halkirk in central Alberta sees a lot of positives with triticale. “It grows well in several different soil types. It doesn’t require many inputs. It can handle heat stress probably better than any other crop out there. It also does well in heavily manured soils – it’s less prone to lodging than a crop like barley.”
Solick offers three triticales – Bunker, Taza and AC Utlima, which are all spring varieties. He currently sells the seed mostly into British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the U.S.
He notes, “There’s a huge market opening up in the U.S. for triticale. It may have had a big upsurge when the drought hit the U.S. because triticale can handle heat and drought. Also, triticale seed costs far less than the seed for forage corn, so cattle producers get a tremendous bang for the buck out of triticale.”
In the last few years, about 80 per cent of the people buying Solick’s triticale seed, especially Bunker and Taza varieties, are growing the crop for swath grazing and silage. “Triticale excels for swath grazing, particularly because it maintains its quality in the swath. Also, Bunker and Taza both have reduced awn expression, which is really good for swath grazing,” notes Solick.
He thinks the increase in triticale swath grazing has been due in part to the solid results from recent swath grazing studies. Examples include research by Dr. Vern Baron at AAFC’s Lacombe Research Station, including a project done under the CTBI, and a study by the West-Central Forage Association with co-operating producers and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) advisors. These and other studies have provided valuable information on the production, nutrition, palatability and economics of triticale swath grazing. And the results from these studies show triticale has important strengths as a swath grazing crop.
Solick says his other triticale, AC Ultima, has a good grain yield so it’s suited to uses like feed grain. He thinks the grain triticales could also be a good option for ethanol. “However, that depends where the ethanol market is going,” he notes, given that the U.S. government is considering pulling back on the amount of ethanol required to be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply.
Along with the CTBI’s studies on triticale processing for ethanol and DDG, the initiative also helped advance triticale as an ethanol crop through development of Sunray and Brevis, varieties which have higher starch contents, making them better suited to ethanol production.
On the Prairies, ethanol plants use mainly wheat as their feedstock. One of the few plants accepting both wheat and triticale is at the Growing Power Hairy Hill (GPHH) facilities northeast of Edmonton, Alta.
“Triticale is essentially identical to wheat varieties in ethanol production – higher starch/lower protein varieties of both grains are preferred. Triticale can be used in any ethanol plant designed for wheat, but unfortunately it is not suitable for the less costly ethanol plants designed for production from corn or sorghum,” explains Trevor Nickel, general manager of Himark BioGas and a member of the GPHH management team.
According to Nickel, the higher starch/lower protein triticale varieties also benefit the growers. “These varieties definitely use less nitrogen (so less fertilizer loading is needed, lowering production costs) and may use less water. Triticale in general is thought to be more drought resistant than some wheats, and that is a good thing as land that is coming out of economic production for food use due to water issues may still be able to pay the farmers if sustainably converted to industrial use.”
Nickel thinks farmers will produce triticale if there is a consistent demand. “GPHH has posted a triticale bid for our entire operating period. To my knowledge we haven’t purchased more than a token amount to date, but if farmers see year over year demand for a crop they can produce very cost-effectively, they will produce it – it’s simply a matter of profit and risk. I think the whiplash of regulatory risk that the ethanol industry faces is probably a bit much for farmers at the moment; they don’t want to plant a crop, even one with great promise of profit, that is at risk of sitting in their bins for a year or more after harvest if the ethanol industry is on a downturn.”
He adds, “It would be an industry-wide (agriculture and energy) win-win if we could see higher levels of production of a low-cost, low-input crop for ethanol production. We already make ethanol at well below the wholesale price of gasoline, and a lower input cost to the ethanol plant that still provides farmers with good returns improves the economics across the value chain. Ethanol is a great, clean-burning fuel, providing much-needed octane in our vehicle fuels, and can help achieve our climate and pollution goals.”
Winter triticale in the Interlake
In Manitoba’s Interlake region, winter triticale is becoming popular for couple of reasons, according to Ray Bittner, a farm production advisor for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD).
One reason is triticale’s impressive performance as a silage and greenfeed crop. “The real strength of winter triticale [as a forage crop] is the total yield and the reliability of it, because it usually survives better than winter wheat,” explains Bittner. In addition, as a fall-seeded cereal, winter triticale has an important advantage over spring-seeded crops because it can make use of early spring moisture.
Fig. 1 above shows the 2013 hay yields of the winter triticale variety Fridge, grown at six Interlake sites. “Winter survival looked bleak in fall 2012 due to dry conditions, as many fields had only 50 per cent emergence,” says Bittner. “However, winter conditions were good, with a continuous, deep snow cover from November to late April.” In the 2013 growing season, most of the six sites had average rainfall except Lundar, where it was quite dry.
Despite the poor start in 2012, the winter triticale hay yields at all the sites were still higher than average hay yields in the Interlake. “Local area average yield of annual greenfeed is 3,384 pounds per acre, according to Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation insurance,” explains Bittner.
He notes, “Winter triticale forage is generally recommended for dry beef cow rations if it is allowed to reach full stem height. Feed energy values vary from similar to those of barley, to as low as 57 TDN [total digestible nutrients].”
Another key reason triticale is taking off in the Interlake is the seed trade. Bittner says, “A lot of the seed gets sold into the U.S. as a fall grazing crop. It works well for that purpose.”
Connecting with U.S. markets
“Pedigreed seed triticale is one of the major components of our seed business, and we are one of the few people in Western Canada or maybe all of Canada who would make that claim,” says Bryan Corns of Corns Brothers Farm Ltd., situated between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, Alta.
Corns Brothers’ interest in the crop started because triticale grows well in the relatively hot conditions in their region and because they use it on-farm for their cattle. With that as a starting point, they gradually increased their triticale acres, looked for markets, and built up a customer base for their seed, focusing more on livestock producers than grain producers.
They grow three spring and three winter triticale varieties, and serve markets in southern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, the Interior of B.C. and about five U.S. states. “The American market is 10 or 12 times the size of the Canadian market so it’s an opportunity to have a larger marketplace,” says Corns.
According to Corns, the dry conditions in Texas, Oklahoma, southern Kansas and neighbouring states in recent years have prompted farmers in that region to look for crops that can withstand less moisture and more heat, and still provide a reasonable tonnage of forage. He sells winter triticales Metzger and Luoma to meet those needs.
“In Washington and Oregon, farmers prefer a winter triticale that is a little shorter. The heat and moisture conditions they have through irrigation produce a very high grain yield so they are growing a grain variety, Bobcat,” notes Corns.
He adds, “With our spring triticales, we have had a fair bit of luck – luck and continual endeavour in order to move our product.” For instance, Corns Brothers used to supply much of the triticale in Kashi’s breakfast cereal and health bars, and now that Kashi is larger, they supply seed to the people who grow triticale to sell to Kashi.
Corns is pursuing several other areas to further develop their triticale seed business. For instance he is exchanging triticale varieties with a Texas grower, and he will be testing those U.S. varieties to see how they perform under Prairie conditions. As well, Corns and Solick are part of a small group of triticale growers who are evaluating some older, deregistered Canadian triticale varieties for their production traits and also having lab tests done to determine their potential for different end uses.
In the coming year, the changing markets could favour increased triticale production. Corns explains, “As the large grain crops throughout North America have come on deck and the rail transportation system is backlogged or bottlenecked, I think some people will plant some triticale and roll it up in bales, so they don’t have to find space for it in their bins. Also, with higher livestock prices, I think people will be growing more triticale for silage and greenfeed.”
Bittner notes, “In the last couple of years there was really no reason for cropping producers to branch off into unusual crops. The simple cereals and canola were plenty profitable. But as we return to possibly lower crop prices on a regular basis, and higher livestock prices, I think triticale is a good fit.”
Looking at the longer term, Corns says, “I see triticale acres increasing but at a moderate pace because you have to look for your markets and you have to find someone who is looking for the product. But if you find that person or group or company and you treat them well, it just seems like it has grown continually for our operation.”