Canary Seed Development Commission of Saskatchewan

About Canary Seed

Close up view of Canary SeedThe scientific name for Canary seed 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 Canary seed, with the production used predominately as a component of feed mixtures for caged and wild birds. The total value of exports is typically in the range of $100 million each year.

In early 2016, the Canary Seed Development Commission of Saskatchewan was successful in getting novel food approval for Canary seed in both Canada and the United States. This approval is for de-hulled glabrous (hairless) Canary seed. Some consumption of Canary seed with the hull attached has long occurred as a health food, especially in countries with a Hispanic population.

Canary seed is gluten free, but people who have an allergy to wheat are advised that they may also have an allergy to Canary seed. Individuals and food companies who experience any adverse reaction to Canary seed consumption are asked to call 1-844-975-6624.

De-hulled Canary seed for human food is referred to by its Spanish name – Alpiste. A website for food processors and consumers is available at Suppliers of Alpiste and Alpsite products are listed on the website.

Markets and Prices

Typically about 300,000 acres of Canary seed are grown in Saskatchewan and the province accounts for over 95 per cent of Canadian acreage and production.

Canada has well over 80 per cent of world Canary seed exports. Other exporting countries include Argentina and Hungary. 

World demand for Canary seed remains relatively constant from one year to the next. An important price determinant is the production and inventory in Saskatchewan, along with the willingness of producers to sell at any given price.

The average yield of Canary seed in Saskatchewan typically ranges from 800 to 1400 pounds per acre.

While more than 50 countries regularly purchase Canadian Canary seed, the top export destinations are Mexico, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, United States and Colombia – countries with high populations of caged birds.

Canary Seed VarietiesCanary Seed heads

There are two main types of Canary seed, itchy and hairless. Most of the Saskatchewan acreage is still comprised of the itchy varieties, which have tiny, sharp hairs (spicules) attached to the hull.

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, the older itchy varieties provide somewhat higher yields and that has limited the uptake of the new varieties.

The itchy varieties in use include Keet and Cantate. For Keet, only common seed is available.

The main glabrous varieties are CDC Bastia, CDC Calvi, CDC Cibo and CDC Lumio

CDC Calvi, CDC Cibo and CDC Lumio are distributed by Canterra Seeds.CDC Cibo is the first yellow seeded variety registered. When the hull is removed, the seed is yellow rather than brown. For many human food uses, a yellow seed coat colour is more desirable. CDC Lumio is the newest and highest yielding of the glabrous varieties.

The Saskatchewan Seed Guide has yield and agronomic information on the various Canary seed varieties as well as a listing of pedigreed seed growers.

The bushel weight of itchy varieties is considered to be 50 pounds, while the glabrous varieties are typically calculated at 56 pounds per bushel.

On August 1, 2021, at the request of the Canary Seed Development Commission of Saskatchewan, Canary seed was placed under the Canada Grains Act giving it producer payment protection through the Canadian Grain Commission.

Agronomicsfield of Canary Seed

Canary seed 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 also has a significant acreage.

Since it is a shallow-rooted cereal, Canary seed 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. Many producers seed at somewhat higher rates. The crop is not recommended for sandy soils.

In addition to the main nutrients of nitrogen and phosphate, Canary seed 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 recommends the use of around 40 pounds per acre of actual potash. Most researchers say the additional of any more than 35 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen results in more vegetative growth, but not a lot more seed production. However, some producers believe there’s a yield benefit from higher rates of N.

Only one product is registered and available for the control of wild oats in Canary seed – Avadex granular. Work is underway in an attempt to establish some viable post-emergent wild oat control options. A range of products are registered for broadleaf weed control. Note that Canary seed is sensitive to soil borne residues of a number of herbicides including Edge and trifluralin. Check the Crop Protection Guide from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture for further information.

There are no products for removing volunteer cereals from a Canary seed crop. As well, Canary seed 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.

HarvestingCombining Canary Seed

Canary seed 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 de-hulled seed. De-hulled seed, recognized by the brown colour (or yellow in the case of CDC Cibo), is considered dockage in the birdseed market.

Many years ago, there was no official conversion table for Canary seed on the standard moisture testers. At that time, a flax chart was used.

In more recent times, the Canadian Grain Commission has published a Canary seed conversion table as a service to the industry. In its publication on harvesting specialty crops, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture lists 13 per cent for safe storage of Canary seed. 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. As well, some buyers still prefer to use the flax chart.

The itchy varieties can cause irritation to the skin and eyes during harvest and handling. Dust masks are recommended.

Nutrient Composition

Download Fact Sheet: Nutrient Composition of Canary Seed Groats - Hairless (glabrous) Varieties (PDF - 52 KB)