They are used to enhance the taste of food almost each and every day, and by 2019, the global spice market is projected to be worth more than $10 billion — and a small segment of Saskatchewan producers are helping to contribute to worldwide demand.
Just outside of Watrous, Sask. on the wide-open prairie is our province’s very own spice market.
Shane Stokke stumbled across caraway nearly 20 years ago, after someone brought in a load to his processing plant and he decided to spice up his operation by planting some crops of his own. “This field is about 200 acres,” said Stokke of Stokke Seeds. “Some years I would have as many as 500 to 600 acres.”
Once you plant it, it’s there to stay, Stokke explained as we stood in the field of caraway that one might first mistake for overgrown dill plants.
“This wasn’t seeded this year, it was seeded back in 2015.”
The plant takes a year to produce and is relatively inexpensive, Stokke said, compared to other crops in his rotation. It makes up three to four per cent of what he grows.
For many farmers, it’s a small segment of what they grow as opposed to crops like canola.
“The quantity is not the issue, it’s the quality and also the market conditions as to what dictates how many acres are going to be grown in Saskatchewan in any given year.” said Dale Risula, specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture.
According to Risula, herb, spice and specialty agriculture production can vary from one year to the next:
- Wild rice in northern Saskatchewan: 500,000 pounds to five million pounds
- Coriander: 5,000 to 25,000 acres
- Caraway: 2,000 to 9,000 acres
“The biggest challenge is disease,” said Stokke. “You have a flower blight and that can really hurt a crop.”
Research is now underway at the University of Saskatchewan to combat this issue and avoid severe crop loss. In some cases, the disease has struck coriander and caraway fields so hard it’s resulted in a 90 per cent yield loss.
So why should people care? Spices like caraway are used in more products than one might think. It’s used to season meats, cheeses and sauerkraut, and the seed itself contains an essential oil which is used to flavour mouthwashes and liqueurs.
“We’re supplying a lot of product to the Asian community. They want different products, too, we have to make sure that we diversify our crops and make sure that we open to trade routes around the world,” said Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
“That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.”
The overall spice market in Canada is a $5 to $10 million industry. Plus, the more that producers diversify, the greater the reduction of pathogens and insect infestation, according to officials.
It also helps, Stokke said, that the crop is fairly manageable for even those new to the spice scene.
“It’s a good crop,” Stokke added. “It’s a little bit more risk but it can give you some pretty good returns at the end of the day.”