WEED SEED WOES
BY MELANIE EPP • PHOTO BY ROB MAKOWSKY
In June of 2018, Vietnam’s Protection Department (PPD) notified the Canadian government that consignments of Canadian wheat and peas were found to be in non-compliance with the country’s phytosanitary requirements. The PPD confirmed the discovery of Canada thistle (also known as creeping thistle), as well as its intention to reject any shipments found to contain the weed, regardless of their country of origin, as early as Jan. 1, 2019. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) just happened to come into effect on the same date.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has advised Canada that further findings of non-compliance could lead to the suspension of wheat exports from Canada, said Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada. “The risk of vessel rejection effectively renders shipments to Vietnam economically unfeasible,” said Dahl.
Canada thistle is not found in Vietnam and is, therefore, a prohibited weed seed. And while the export market to the country is currently quite small, there was hope that it would grow. “Vietnam is part of the CPTPP agreement, so it’s a market where there is potential for growth,” said Dahl. “So, this is rather unfortunate.”
While exporters could continue to take the risk, Dahl said it is a real gamble. Vietnam, he added, has indicated that it will reject shipments if there are further incidents with the problematic weed. “Given the ubiquitous nature of Canada thistle in Western Canada, it’s simply not commercially feasible to engage in the Vietnamese market if there is an absolute zero tolerance for thistle seeds,” he said. “The commercial risk is too high.”
Outright rejection can be extremely costly and would effectively leave the seller looking for a new buyer. “It’s the exporter’s risk,” said Dahl. “Exporters are not willing to take that risk. It’s far too costly.”
The zero-tolerance policy doesn’t make sense to Dahl. “I don’t understand why Vietnam is taking this action,” he said. “There isn’t a risk to the environment because none of what we’re exporting is going for seed.”
In fact, wheat exports are destined to be milled, which means any weed seeds that may be present would be denatured in the flour making process. “There really is no risk to the environment, so I’m not sure what exactly is behind the measures taken by Vietnam,” he said. He did note, however, that the country is within its World Trade Organization phytosanitary commitments because Canada thistle is not naturally present in Vietnam. While he noted it’s discouraging, at this time, he doesn’t see a way around the issue.
President of the Grain Growers of Canada, Jeff Nielsen, is also region 2 Alberta Barley director and farms 1,350 acres of wheat, barley and canola near Olds. He said farmers are concerned. “We’re looking at hopefully more exports into Vietnam, so this little hiccup right now—we need to get it cleared up,” he said.
He also has Canada thistle in his fields, so he understands Vietnam’s concern. “Here, we cover our trucks, and here we put grain in hopper cars to get it shipped to port,” he said. “A lot of these importing countries do not have the standards that we have. I guess there’s always the fear that there could be contamination from grains going from the terminal to the mill.
“They don’t have Canada thistle, they don’t want Canada thistle,” he continued. “It’s a pain in the ass weed for us.”