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. The total value of exports is typically in the range of $100 million each year.
In early 2016, the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan was successful in getting novel food approval for canaryseed in both Canada and the United States. This approval is for de-hulled glabrous (hairless) canaryseed. Some consumption of canaryseed with the hull attached has long occurred as a health food, especially in countries with a Hispanic population.
Canaryseed is gluten free, but people who have an allergy to wheat are advised that they may also have an allergy to canaryseed. Individuals and food companies who experience any adverse reaction to canaryseed consumption are asked to call 1-844-975-6624.
Several Saskatchewan companies are working to establish de-hulling capacity so that de-hulled canaryseed is available to grind into flour or use as a whole seed product.
Markets and Prices
Typically about 300,000 acres of canaryseed 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 canaryseed exports. Other exporting countries include Argentina and Hungary.
World demand for canaryseed 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. In recent years, the price paid to growers has usually ranged from 20 to 30 cents per pound.
The average yield of canaryseed in Saskatchewan typically ranges from 800 to 1400 pounds per acre.
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.
There are two main types of canaryseed, itchy and hairless. Most of the Saskatchewan acreage is still comprised of the itchy varieties, which have tiny, sharp hairs (spicules) 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, the older itchy varieties provide higher yields and that has limited the uptake of the new varieties.
The itchy varieties in use include Keet and Cantate.
The glabrous varieties are CDC Maria, CDC Togo, CDC Bastia and the newest variety registered, CDC Calvi. CDC Calvi is distributed by Canterra Seeds and has the highest yield of the glabrous varieties.
On all the varieties currently being grown, the seed is a brown colour once the hull is removed. Pierre Hucl has many promising yellow-seeded lines in development which should provide a more pleasing product for food uses. The first yellow-seeded line has been registered and seed should be commercially available by the 2018 growing season.
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 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 recommends the use of around 20 pounds per acre of 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 canaryseed – 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 canaryseed 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 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 de-hulled seed. De-hulled seed, recognized by the brown colour, is considered dockage in the birdseed market.
Many years ago, there was no official conversion table for canaryseed on the standard moisture testers. At that time, a flax chart was 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. 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.