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China’s move to halt purchases of Canadian canola has stuck Canada’s growers with lower prices and bins full of unsold crops.

At the end of July, 2.6 million tonnes of last year’s canola was still stored on Canadian farms, or 60 per cent more than the same time last year, Statistics Canada said on Friday, attributing the storage rise mainly to the loss of some of the Chinese market. Processors and other commercial users are holding 46 per cent more canola compared with a year ago, Statscan said.

China, Canada’s biggest buyer of the seed used to make cooking oil, animal feed and fuel, stopped imports of most Canadian canola several months ago, a step believed to be linked to Canada’s arrest of a Chinese technology executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last December at the request of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud and other charges. The Canadian government has tried and failed to persuade China to lift the ban, which has been extended to meat.

Meanwhile, prices for canola have plunged amid a broader decline in international prices for field crops spurred by large global harvests and volatile demand.

“It’s been a difficult year,” said Charles Fossay, a grower in Manitoba’s Red River Valley and president of the Manitoba Canola Growers.

In 2018, China bought seven million tonnes of canola seed, meal and oil worth $4.4-billion, according to the Canola Council of Canada. But Canadian exports to China of canola have dropped by one million tonnes in the past year ending in July, Statistics Canada said.

Canadian grain traders are seeking new buyers for the canola crop, and hope to replace part of the Chinese market with an agreement to sell 1.5 million tonnes to European buyers for biodiesel uses. “It’s less than half of what we were selling to China but it’s a big increase on what we normally ship to Europe,” Mr. Fossay said.

Kenton Possberg, a farmer in Humboldt, Sask., counts himself among the lucky ones, sort of. His canola bins are empty because he sold what was left of last year’s harvest, but had to accept a 10-per-cent price cut to do so.

“The price wasn’t that great, but rather than tying up storage space for this year, we just decided to move the remainder,” Mr. Possberg said by phone on Friday.

Growers selling to grain dealers in Mr. Possberg’s part of central Saskatchewan today are being offered prices of $9.30 to $9.50 a bushel, compared with almost $11 a year ago. “It’s a substantial difference,” he said. “It pretty much eats up the profit margin.”

At the elevators near Mr. Fossay’s Manitoba farm, a bushel of canola fetches less than $10. That is less than the $10.50 to $11 it costs to seed, fertilize and run the machinery it takes to grow and harvest a bushel, he said.

Mr. Possberg, Mr. Fossay and other farmers are in the midst of bringing in this year’s canola, wheat, barley and other grains. It’s a weeks-long period that has been delayed and prolonged in some regions by cool and wet weather that slows the process and reduces the quality – and price – of the crops.

Like most canola growers, Mr. Possberg planted less canola this year, and will likely plant even less next year, depending on the market prices. But seed, fertilizer and other inputs are purchased several months before spring planting, which makes it hard to change plans when international events send prices lower.

“The other issue is a lack of alternatives,” said Mr. Possberg, who also grows wheat, barley and oats but farms in a region that is too wet for pulse crops to thrive. Prices for pulse crops – lentils and peas – have also plunged amid trade disputes with India, and Italy has restricted purchases of durum wheat, used to make pasta.

“There are trade issues with other crops, too, and that’s limiting our ability to substitute,” Mr. Possberg said.

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