THE REAL possibility of oilseed rape yields of up to 5 tonnes a hectare is an obvious reason behind German farmers growing the European canola equivalent, but a visiting German professor says it is a high risk, high reward business.
Henning Kage, a professor at Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, said high production and compliance costs meant it worked out to be around 800-900 euro ($A1182-$1330) a hectare to plant the crop.
This compares to an Australian figure of around $400/ha. However, Prof Kage said yields throughout Germany could easily top 5t/ha, compared to Australian averages around 1.5t/ha and prices in recent years had been over $A700/t, although they have come back to $515/t this year.
“Farmers can get some good returns with oilseed rape if it is done correctly,” Prof Kage told a meeting at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park this week.
The future of oilseed rape production into the future will be closely tied in to the biofuels sector.
“Demand from bio-energy has been a key reason for oilseed rape plantings increasing,” Prof Kage said.
“Biofuel manufacturers use more than three quarters of the oilseed rape grown in Europe.”
However, he said European Union (EU) legislators were closely monitoring the effectiveness of biodiesel made from oilseed rape.
“We are seeing new initiatives such as bio-gas made from a maize base and this may prove more energy efficient than biodiesel.”
Other big pressures on the oilseed rape industry in Europe include various compliance measures.
“We are under pressure to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and to cut fertiliser run-off,” Prof Kage said.
He said there was further scope to improve yields, off levels already high by Australian standards.
“Given the available light and radiation, I think we could push for yields of 8t/ha, but that is a long way off.
“It will require improved in-paddock management to get that light use efficiency up.
“Part of that will be getting the canopy architecture right in terms of getting optimum plant numbers and the optimum amount of biomass.
“The gains are less likely to be from genetic improvements and more from farm practices.”
He said at present oilseed rape yields in Europe were trending upwards, compared to wheat yields which have plateaued.
Operationally, oilseed rape is generally planted in rotation with a winter barley or wheat.
“It is a tight timeframe, the cereal usually comes off in early August and farmers want to plant the oilseed rape by the end of the month.”
Prof Kage said in-paddock problems to contend with included sowing into heavy cereal residues of 8-10t/ha and managing without neo-nicotinoid insecticides which are now banned in the EU.