Canola looks as good as gold

SURGING demand for canola oil and high seed prices has seen a major expansion in the Tasmanian crop. There are predictions that Tasmanian crop production could soon double to 20,000 tonnes a year as more growers take advantage of the high canola seed prices and grazing benefits offered by dual purpose varieties.

Rob Henry, from canola production company Macquarie Oil, said Tasmanian crop production had expanded from about 2000 tonnes of seed three years ago to about 10,000 tonnes this year.

“There has been a massive increase and I’ve been talking to growers this morning and one big grower said he has just done a complete switch from poppies to canola,” he said. “I think that’s for two reasons, one because of the price of canola and where it is at the moment and also because poppies probably aren’t paying what they should be when you look at the work involved.”

Mr Henry said dual-purpose varieties, which provide valuable grazing as well as good seed production, were now being more commonly grown. On their farm near Longford, Mr Henry said they grow a variety that can be eaten down hard without any significant impact on seed production. “We grazed it right through until the end of August and it was eaten down into the ground,” he said. “We do that annually and you can really hammer it without any problems.”

Mr Henry said while their dual-purpose crops are planted in March/April there was the potential to plant them earlier and get more grazing value out of the crops if needed. With huge demand for oil seed across the globe, Mr Henry said there was the potential for local canola production to continue growing. The Macquarie business started about 20 years ago, when the focus was more on biodiesel production.

Nowadays, however, the business is all about producing and supplying canola oil and meal. Mr Henry said demand for biodiesel, particularly in the United States and Europe had fuelled huge demand for oilseeds across the globe. As well as sourcing as much seed from Tasmanian growers as possible, the company also brings in seed from the mainland as well to supply their customers. The seed is processed at the company’s Cressy factory where they use state-of-the-art German pressing technology to extract the oil.

A new oil filtration system will soon be installed in time for the upcoming harvest season. The canola oil is sold to company’s producing food for the salmon industry.

After the oil has been extracted, the left-over canola meal is sold to poultry local producers and Mr Henry said they are now also selling meal to customers on the mainland where it is used for dairy, beef and pig feed. While the company has previously sourced most of its seed though a local grain broker, Mr Henry said they are now in a position to buy some seed directly from producers. “We’ve just got to grow our books to reflect our ability to go out and buy more and more seed,” he said. The seed is pressed at the factory year-round to keep up with demand.

Mr Henry said as well as offering good financial returns, the crop was also valuable as part of a cropping rotation. “There’s a lot grown up around Bothwell now and with the decline in the poppy industry it’s just another good option for people,’ he said. “It’s a great rotation crop too for people to clean up unwanted grass weeds and a great crop in a rotation with wheat other cereals as well.”