As canola prices reach near record prices, many local growers are celebrating abundant crops with verdant foliage.
Canola is currently selling for $630 a tonne, based on 42 per cent oil content.
It is the highest recorded price in the last nine years, with one expert saying, if you “look at percentile pricing, it’s pretty much the best it's been for the last nine years.”
The canola pricing scheme is percentage based and based on the weight and oil content of the grain. Oil content of 46-48 per cent can attract a percentage bonus of about $50 per tonne.
Canola can be more sensitive to heat and lack of moisture than wheat or barley, and is expensive to grow.Grower - Andrew Fraser
Canola plants grow from 0.91 to 1.524 metres (3-5 three to five feet) tall and produce pods containing seeds that are harvested and then crushed to produce canola oil and meal.
The plants have small, yellow flowers that have created a stunning vista during the last month as crops flower at Dean and Miners Rest and around Ballarat.
More than other grain crops, rainfall at the right times and moisture is critical for canola seeds that optimally contain about 43 per cent oil.
At the right time in the season, the moisture can improve the oil content and subsequently the price per tonne. Too much moisture too early in the season can cause diseases such as sclerotinia.
As canola prices have increased, compared with grains such as wheat and barley, it has led to increased sowing in the region in recent years.
Miner’s Rest farmer Andrew Fraser was one grower who realised early that diversification was the key to agricultural survival. He began sowing canola about eight years ago.
This season, his 161.87ha (400 acre) canola crop has been blooming abundantly and looks set to be on track for a record price.
He typically plants in late March-April and strips the crop (harvests) a few days before Christmas, yielding on average of about 2.5 tonnes per hectare, although he has heard of others reaping 3-3.5 tonnes/ha.
“I windrow it,” he said, “Once the crop goes green-brown in colour on top, it’s pretty right; dry enough for the grain to separate out when put through the header.”
In 2017, canola reached prices of $480/tonne, but Mr Fraser says canola can be more sensitive to heat and lack of moisture than wheat or barley, and is expensive to grow.
“The seeds are expensive and then there’s the lime and gypsum to condition the soil and the chemicals required,” he said.
With the controversial subject of Roundup and glyphosate in the spotlight, he was loathe to speak about chemicals, except to say they were necessary.
“Without chemicals there won’t be any grain crops … wheat, oats, barley nothing,” he said.
“As a grower, you are competing with weeds and grass – they are your competition. The more weeds and grass, the less moisture and nutrients in the soil that is available for the crop,’’ Mr Fraser said.
Canola is a “clear field” crop, he explains. This means that when the crop is sprayed, it renders the soil clear of weeds and grass for up to two years.
Canola is a triennial or quadrenniel (3-4 year) crop (although some growers plant more frequently), so once the land is clear, other grain crops – wheat, barley – can be grown on the land inbetween, Mr Fraser said.