Canola is the third most important winter grain crop in Australia, behind wheat and barley. It is mostly grown in winter-dominant rainfall environments with spring type varieties, which do not need vernalisation (winter chilling) to flower although vernalisation speeds up flowering.
Over 2 million hectares of canola is planted each year cross south east Australia and Western Australia, which produces over 3.5 million tonnes of seed.
Canola is grown principally as a source of edible oil, however it is being used more frequently in the production of biodiesel. Canola meal, the main by-product of crushed canola, is used as a high protein feed for intensive livestock, mainly in the pig, poultry and dairy industries.
As well as being profitable in its own right canola is an important break crop in Australian cereal production systems.
According to the Canola best practice management guide for south-eastern Australia, [PDF, 6.4 MB], produced by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fatty acids and is second only to olive oil in its high level of monounsaturated oleic acid.
Canola oil is marketed as a healthy choice because it is low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats, including Omega-3 fatty acids, which all help lower cholesterol levels.
Several types of canola are being developed for different end-uses. These include types with high levels of lauric, stearic or oleic acids, which can be used for detergents, solid margarines or shortening and cooking oils. Other modified canola types with petroselinic and ricinoleic acids may be used for plastics, lubricants and pharmaceuticals but not for human consumption.
Evaluating the economics of growing canola
World canola production and trade have grown rapidly over the past five years as the demand for canola oil and meal has increased. Australia plays an important role in this trade, as the world’s second largest exporter of canola seed.
Western Australia produces roughly 40 per cent of the nations canola, most of which is exported into Asia for human use and to Europe for biofuels.
Almost nine million tonnes of biodiesel were produced in 2011 in Europe mainly from canola oil.
Studies in Western Australia [PDF, 245 kB] suggest producing biodiesel from canola oil in a small scale plant would cost up to 190 cents per litre.
Farmers need to investigate the relative costs and benefits of plant size and feedstock to assess the chances of success with biodiesel production.
Most common canola varieties typically contain between 35% and 50% oil. The oil is the most valuable component of the seed, usually accounting for 65%–80% of the seed value, with the meal component accounting for the remainder.
The meal remaining after the oil has been extracted can be sold to the livestock industry as feedstuff (canola meal) and/or can be used as a soil amendment or fertiliser.
Traditionally, the canola meal was absorbed by the feedlot industry. However, there is a limit to how much vegetable protein, i.e. canola meal can be utilised in the livestock industry.
In the longer term, canola meal could be used as a source of specific proteins that could be the raw material for the production of several products with industrial applications. These include soil amendments, soil fertilisers, bio-polymers, surfactants and adhesives.
The Canola best practice management guide for south-eastern Australia, [PDF, 6.4 MB], produced by the Grains Research and Development Corporation provides details on everything you need to know when growing canola.
It has information on:
- crop rotation and paddock selection
- crop rotation
- crop establishment
- row spacing
- crop nutrition
- pest, disease and weed management
- post harvest management.
The Australian Oilseed Federation’s Agronomy Centre also provides information on agronomy issues you need to consider when growing canola.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries also provides a Canola Planting Guide for northern NSW growers [PDF, 263 kB] as to the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries for Victorian growers.
Pollination is an essential step in the seed production of canola. It is achieved with the assistance of various pollen vectors, particularly honey bees. Pollination management for canola in Australia [PDF, 498 kB], produced by RIRDC, provides information on what factors within the field have on pollination efficiency of honey bees.
The Canola best practice management guide for south-eastern Australia, [PDF, 6.4 MB], produced by the Grains Research and Development Corporation provides details on how to harvest canola via:
- direct heading
- chemical desiccation.
The Direct Heading Canola fact sheet, [PDF, 540 kB] produced by the Grains Research and Development Corporation provides further details on how to harvest canola via direct heading.
Physiological maturity occurs when the seed moisture content reaches 35–45 per cent. Growers are advised to check the crop regularly from 14 days after the end of flowering (10 per cent of plants with flowers). Look for seed colour change from 40–60 per cent on the main stem from pods at all levels.
As of 2014, approximately 750 000 tonnes of Australian canola seed is crushed domestically. According to the report Variability of quality traits in canola seed, oil and meal [302 kB], produced by the Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales, a new plant at Wagga Wagga in New South Wales is expected to double Australia’s oilseed crushing capacity.
At present there are two locally based canola crushing operations in Western Australia, located at Pinjarra and Kojonup. They process 60,000 tonnes of canola seed per year – representing about eight per cent of the State’s total canola production.
The Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) has established a juncea canola working group to oversee market and quality issues.
When trading canola, a bonification system exists in Australia so that seeds with higher oil content receive a price premium, while those with lower oil content are given a deduction. Current Australian standards indicate that the base oil content is 42%, with a 1.5% price premium (or deduction) for each 1% above (or below) the 42% threshold.
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