Cargill Specialty Canola Program

Managing a transparent supply chain from seed to oil.

Reflections on a misunderstood industry

Lyle Depauw
Commercial Seed Manager, Cargill

So…what do you do, exactly?

Certainly this is a question that those working in agriculture have heard before. Too often, the assumption is made that this industry is reserved for those who grew up in a farming household. Considering agriculture and agri-foods contributes over $110 billion annually to Canada’s GDP, is one of the largest export industries in Canada, and employs 1 in 8 Canadians you’d think that everyone would know more about what it means to work in ag.

Why do misconceptions still exist about its value and impact, not to mention endless career options save for those who are fortunate enough to be employed within it?

In an effort to raise Canadian agriculture’s profile – because this is something we’re quite passionate about – we’re sharing personal experiences from our own team of VICTORY canola employees, starting with mine.

A few weeks ago I was asking my kids the typical ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’?

The answer I got surprised me: I don’t want to do what you do Dad; all you do all day is work on your computer and talk on the phone. This, coming from my kids who understand that I work in the canola industry, that the main oil in our pantry is canola, and that when we go to our favorite restaurants they know that the oil used in the kitchen, is you guessed it – canola.

To be fair, their impression of a “typical” work day for me today is very different than how things would have looked prior to the impact that COVID-19 brought on with school and office closures. I used to go to the office every day, travelled across the country, and attended industry events with colleagues from around the world. Now they see me pour my morning cup of coffee and start the daily commute down to the basement office.

To help my kids understand what it is that I do, we took advantage of a perfect prairie summer day, and made an impromptu stop along the side of the road of one of our research sites in southern Manitoba.

We talked about why we couldn’t go into the trial: it was private property, we didn’t know if pesticides had been applied recently, and we didn’t have the proper boot covers to prevent the spread of clubroot, a nasty disease that can kill canola.

I shared with them the critical role that farmers hold in food production, and how important it is that crop scientists invent better varieties to help these farmers grow better crops, resulting in better quality food for all of us.

We then talked about the scientists in Canada and the US who collaborate on inventing new varieties, scientists who make the canola resistant to diseases, and scientists who make sure the canola oil is safe for us to eat.

I encouraged them to visualize the hundreds of little plots, each with a different variety, grown again and again in science experiments like the one we stood along, in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta over many years, and when it’s finally done, only one or two varieties will be good enough for a farmer to want to grow in the future.

I told them about how when we finally find those one or two varieties that farmers will like, it takes another two years to grow the amount of seeds a farmer would need to grow a crop.

Our conversation concluded with what it is that I do. Simply put, to predict the future: What will farmers need tomorrow, and next year? What should our scientists be working on today? How much planting seed should be produced tomorrow to ensure we create enough specialty canola oil to make the foods we like to eat?

The response I got? Thanks Dad, can our next stop be for ice cream?

Lyle with his son, rural Manitoba, July 2020.