Canada is so cold, the old joke goes, that it grows only frozen vegetables. On the contrary, the cool short-season Eastern provinces, the hot, sunny middle expanses and the temperate West Coast provide a climatic variety that supports a wide diversity of crops. According to the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canadian agriculture feeds a domestic market along with generating food exports that rank Canada among the top agricultural producers. Vegetable seed is only one Canadian product among many.
Much of the information on Canadian agriculture is generated at the provincial level, and consolidation by the central Ministry of Agriculture takes time. Vegetable and vegetable seed production are further subdivided: grains, pulses, herbs, potatoes and other vegetables are reported separately. According to the Canadian Seed Trade Association, 2007 agricultural seeds were valued at $265 million, of which $82 million was vegetable seeds. Major markets included Argentina, Chile, China, France, the Netherlands and the U.S. In this growing market, corn seed was the most spectacular grower at $1.9 million in 2004-2005. It increased to $20.9 million in 2007-2008. Seed producers number approximately 4,500 and the Canadian Seed Trade Association represents approximately 150 seed companies.
The value of seeds for the vegetables ordinarily grown in home and market gardens is particularly difficult to determine because of the joint ventures of Canadian and U.S. companies. Companies like the Canadian Vesey's and American Burpee's have operating facilities in both countries. Import/export balances shift in response to changing currency exchange rates. The spike in corn seeds is generally linked to U.S. interest in ethanol production.
Many grain figures are held in close confidence, although growth is generally projected from year to year, especially in the distinctive Canadian oil-seed production of canola. Beginning in the 1970s, canola seed was developed for agribusiness use, and the oil market remains robust. According to the Canola Council, 60,000 farmers harvest 11.3 million acres of rapeseed. Seed, oil and meal exports are valued at $3 billion.
A large portion of the Canadian vegetable market is occupied by pulses: peas, beans and lentils, both for human consumption and forage crops. Although recent forecasts suggest a lower-than-usual crop in 2011, due to less acreage seeded and climate issues, the total is still calculated at 4.2 million metric tons.
Seed potatoes also constitute a substantial fraction of the Canadian vegetable seed market. Occupying 422,541 acres of farmland in 2001-2002, potatoes were valued at $35.6 million, of which $7.1 million represented sales of seed potatoes. British Columbia growers estimate that 57 percent of their seed potatoes are exported to the U.S., while 43 percent are used domestically. Nearly half of Canada's potato crop is produced by Prince Edward Island and Manitoba Province.