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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Canaryseed approved for human food markets

Until recently, virtually all canaryseed was destined for the global birdseed market. However, significant efforts by the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan (CDCS) resulted in dehulled canaryseed receiving novel food approval for human food last year. Canaryseed is the first novel cereal crop in Canada to receive such approval.

As the top world exporter of canaryseed, Saskatchewan growers welcome the new approval, which covers glabrous (hairless) canaryseed varieties, with both brown and yellow-coloured seeds. Saskatchewan produces over 95 per cent of the canaryseed grown in Canada, with an average of 300,000 acres per year of production. With human food approvals now in place, new market opportunities are slowly becoming available, but growers are cautioned that market development into these markets will take some time.

“Now that we have approvals in place in both Canada and the U.S., we are working to develop opportunities with food processing companies,” explains Kevin Hursh, executive director of the CDCS. “However, one of the current challenges is to establish commercial dehulling capability for the glabrous varieties and to improve technical and efficiency aspects of dehulling. There is interest from both small- and medium-scale companies, and as we bring commercial dehulling capability online, we anticipate more interest for a range of food applications.”

There are several food applications for canaryseed, with other opportunities being investigated. Whole seeds can be used in nutrition bars and sprinkled on hamburger buns in place of sesame seed. Canaryseed has high protein and high oil, including 84 per cent unsaturated edible oil content. Canaryseed flour can be used to make breads, cookies, cereals and pastas, while the high starch content can be used for both food and industrial uses.

Canaryseed is also gluten-free, and for growers willing to follow the strict protocols similar to oat required to make a gluten-free claim, there may be niche market opportunities. However, individuals with a specific food allergy to wheat may also be allergic to a protein in canaryseed, unrelated to gluten sensitivity. Until further research is completed, canaryseed human food products will be required to carry a cautionary statement of warning for consumers with a wheat allergy.

“We have cautioned growers from the beginning that the food market will take some time to get established, so for now the primary market for canaryseed continues to be for birdseed,” Hursh adds. “The number one market today is Mexico, followed closely by Europe, with sales to numerous other countries around the world. The birdseed market has remained fairly consistent over the past few years and is not expected to change very much, however the new opportunities in the food market over the next several years should open opportunities for acreage expansion.”

New varietal development led by Pierre Hucl, canaryseed breeder at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, may also open new opportunities. Along with yield improvements, Hucl is working on developing yellow-seeded varieties similar to established brown-seeded glabrous varieties, but that are more aesthetically pleasing for food products.

“CDC Calvi is the newest brown-seeded glabrous variety and 2016 was the first year for commercial production,” Hursh says. “A new yellow-seeded variety under seed increase looks very promising and has good yields. Although there may be small amounts commercially available in 2017, it will most likely be 2018 before substantial seed quantities will be available through Canterra Seeds.”

Since the introduction of CDC Maria, the first glabrous variety in the ’90s, the yield gap compared to the original hairy or “itchy” varieties Keet, Cantate and Elias, has closed with newer varieties such as CDC Togo and CDC Bastia. The newest variety, CDC Calvi, still has a slight yield gap compared to the hairy varieties. However, for Hursh and some other growers the “itchy” hairy varieties will very soon be a thing of the past. The newer hairless varieties maintain the high protein of regular canaryseed, while being less irritating to the skin during handling and eliminating the oiling and polishing steps in processing. This makes it the perfect option for birdseed processors and packagers.

“Until now, the marketplace hasn’t been willing to pay a premium for the glabrous varieties, so little efforts were made to segregate the different canaryseed varieties,” Hursh explains. “To meet the needs of the human food market, the glabrous varieties will have to be segregated either at a dedicated plant, or a plant that is able to meet strict cleanout protocols between varieties. Some smaller plants are beginning to segregate hairless varieties for specific health food markets or dehulling processes, and this will likely expand as food application markets grow.”

Along with the substantial effort made by the CDCS to obtain human food approval and develop food applications, research and development efforts continue on breeding and improving agronomics. Research continues on fertilizers, herbicides, diseases such as leaf mottle and fusarium, and pests such as aphids. A number of broadleaf weed control products are available, however the only registered wild oat control option is the granular pre-emergent product Avadex. A couple products were registered in the past, but one is now off the market (Avenge) and minor use registration for the other (PUMA) was withdrawn because of unacceptable crop injury. Hucl has variety comparison research underway trying to find lines that have enhanced resistance to post-emergent wild oat control, but the research will take time.

Canaryseed is a reasonable cereal option for growers, depending on market demand, and is widely adapted to the Prairie growing areas. “Canaryseed is an easy crop to grow in many respects, and can withstand challenging wet harvest conditions better than other cereals like durum,” Hursh says. “Canaryseed often provides the best marginal rate of return compared to other cereals, typically better than barley and oat based on provincial average yields and often better than durum in some years. Although new food use markets are expected to take time to develop, once dehulled product is readily available, food companies have expressed interest in developing food applications. Growers shouldn't expect the human food market to change the economics in the short term, but over the long term new opportunities are expected to open up.”

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