The scientific name for canaryseed is Phalaris canariensis, and as the name would suggest, the crop originated in the Canary Islands.
Saskatchewan has become the world’s leading producer and exporter of canaryseed, with the production used almost exclusively as a component of feed mixtures for caged and wild birds. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates the value of Canadian exports at over $134 million in 2008 and nearly $90 million in 2009.
The Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan is working to get canaryseed approved for human food uses. This is the main activity of the producer-funded commission. Some consumption of canaryseed is occurring in the health food market, especially in countries with a Hispanic population.
Markets and Prices
In 2009, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture estimated the seeded area of canaryseed in the province at 300,000 acres, down from 390,000 acres the previous year. It has been as high as 880,000 acres. Saskatchewan accounts for well over 90 per cent of Canadian acreage and production.
Canada has well over 80 per cent of world canaryseed exports. Other exporting countries include Argentina and Hungary.
Since 2006, the price of canaryseed to growers has ranged from a low of 10 cents a pound to a high of about 31 cents. World demand for canaryseed remains relatively constant from one year to the next. The main price determinant seems to be the production and inventory in Saskatchewan, along with the willingness of producers to sell at any given price.
The average yield of canaryseed in Saskatchewan was estimated at 1,163 pounds per acre in 2009. This was up nine per cent from 2008 and was 29 per cent above the 10-year average for the province.
While more than 50 countries regularly purchase Canadian canaryseed, the top export destinations are Mexico, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, United States and Colombia – countries with high populations of caged birds.
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Statistics Canada
There are two main types of canaryseed, itchy and hairless. About two-thirds of the Saskatchewan acreage is comprised of the itchy varieties, which have tiny, sharp hairs at the base of the seed.
Hairless or glabrous varieties have been developed by Dr. Pierre Hucl of the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre. Although these varieties make harvesting and processing more comfortable, many growers feel that the older itchy varieties provide higher, more stable yields and that has limited the uptake of the new varieties.
The itchy varieties in use include Keet, Cantate and Elias. Elias pedigreed seed has not been produced in recent years.
The glabrous varieties are CDC Maria and CDC Togo. Togo is the newer of the two and has better yields than Maria. Another glabrous variety called CDC Bastia has been registered, but no commercial seed was available for 2010.
The bushel weight of itchy varieties is considered to be 50 pounds, while the glabrous varieties are typically calculated at 56 pounds per bushel.
Canaryseed is not a regulated crop under the Canadian Grain Commission. There are no established grades and there are no licensing and bonding requirements for buyers.
Canaryseed is grown in most areas of the Saskatchewan grain belt. West central Saskatchewan around Kindersley and the Regina to Moose Jaw region are typically big production areas. Northeastern Saskatchewan around Melfort also has a significant acreage.
Since it is a shallow-rooted cereal, canaryseed is considered less heat and drought tolerant than wheat. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture recommends a seeding rate of around 30 pounds per acre with a depth of no more than 2.5 inches. The crop is not recommended for sandy soils.
In addition to the main nutrients of nitrogen and phosphate, canaryseed has shown a response to chloride when soil levels are low. Chloride can be applied through the use of potash (KCl). Bill May, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Indian Head is continuing to study the use of chloride in canaryseed production.
Two products are registered for the control of wild oats in canaryseed – Avadex and Avenge. A range of products are registered for broadlead weed control. Note that canaryseed is sensitive to soil borne residues of a number of herbicides including Edge, trifluralin, Assert and Unity. Check the Crop Protection Guide from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture for further information.
There are no products for removing volunteer cereals from a canaryseed crop. As well, canaryseed should not be seeded on flax stubble as the two seeds are similar in size and difficult to separate.
An insecticide application is sometimes warranted in the early heading stage to control aphids. A fungicide application is sometimes warranted in wet summers to control Septoria leaf mottle.
Canaryseed is very shatter resistant and is therefore a good candidate for straight combining. The straw can sometimes be very wiry and difficult to put through the combine, even though the seed is dry.
Care should be taken when setting the combine to minimize dehulled seed. Dehulled seed, recognized by the dark brown colour, is considered dockage.
Many years ago, there was no official conversion table for canaryseed on the standard moisture testers. At that time, a flax chart was sometimes used.
In more recent times, the Canadian Grain Commission has published a canaryseed conversion table as a service to the industry. The table is accurate, but since the Canadian Grain Commission doesn’t regulate canaryseed, there’s no stipulation as to what’s dry, what’s tough and what’s damp.
In its publication on harvesting specialty crops, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture lists 13 per cent for safe storage of canaryseed. While this is a useful guideline, it’s important to know what your buyers want. They may have parameters that differ from the 13 per cent guideline.
The itchy varieties can cause irritation to the skin and eyes during harvest and handling. Dust masks are recommended.