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Huge canola boom captured in full bloom

A record planting of canola has turned large swathes of the Australian countryside bright yellow as fields come into bloom.

September 24, 2022
By Liv Casben
24 September 2022

Pastures across Australia have transformed into a patchwork of bright yellow expanses as canola fields come into flower and farmers gear up for harvest.

With record prices and high global demand, canola is booming on multiple farms.

At one sprawling property in the south-western slopes of NSW, a whopping 1700 hectares is dedicated to crops. Roughly 750 hectares is canola, while the rest is wheat.

Agriculture workers say it’s some of the best cropping country in Australia.

But farm manager Matt Cummins says while the canola looks strong across the district, excess rain has been a challenge.

The Chinese-owned mixed farming enterprise near Harden received a year’s worth of rain by the end of August, and that’s led to about a fifth of the crops being damaged by water.

In the past week, three tractors have been bogged five times.

“We know we’re only one frost or one major downpour away from disaster but growers are optimistic and things are looking quite positive.”

GrainGrowers chairman Brett Hosking

“I don’t think they (the crops) would be quite as good as last year but they would be well up there,” Cummins says.

While the high rainfall will have an impact, the bottom line still looks positive.

“We’ve done pretty well considering how wet it is.”

Cummins’ optimism is being fuelled in part by high canola prices, which hit a record $1200 a tonne in May, while wheat is also in shorter supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The warring European nations export a third of the world’s wheat stocks.

This has put Australian grain producers in a strong position.

GrainGrowers chairman Brett Hosking says canola farmers are capitalising on ideal autumn sowing conditions and strong prices.

“Probably, the last two years, we’ve seen a growing increase in canola plantings,” he says.

Hosking says high prices have seen more farmers choose canola over other crops.

“Right across the country, it’s going to be a big canola year.”

Wet weather, disease and workforce shortages have presented big challenges for many farmers, while growers in some parts of the country have also copped a dry spell throughout winter.

But overall, the mood among grain growers is optimistic.

It’s a very different scene to three years ago when large parts of the country were still in drought.

“We know we’re only one frost or one major downpour away from disaster but growers are optimistic and things are looking quite positive,” Hosking says.

That outlook has propelled a massive expansion of canola plantations across the country.

Nick Goddard from the Australian Oilseeds Federation says it’s not clear whether this year’s crop will exceed the 2021 seven million tonne record, but it’s well ahead of a typical year of about four million tonnes.

Goddard says strong demand for biodiesel in Europe and the US is also fuelling huge demand for Australian canola.

About a million tonnes is crushed domestically for the cooking oil and food ingredients sectors, while the rest is exported.

In Western Australia, canola looks set to overtake barley as the state’s second-biggest crop behind wheat.

That’s significant because in the past five years WA has produced an average of 41 per cent of the Australian winter crop.

“We believe that canola has actually overtaken barley for area planted in Western Australia, which is pretty big because WA has always been a big barley producing state,” Rural Bank agricultural analyst James Maxwell says.

In Western Australia, canola looks set to overtake barley as the state’s second-biggest crop behind wheat. (AP Photo/File)

In the WA wheat belt, the patchwork of yellow is beginning to fade as the canola nears the end of its flowering period.  

At Mark Fowler’s 6000 hectares of cropping country, the canola crop was also increased.

“My area has always had a fairly significant amount of canola planted but certainly it’s increased with the higher prices on offer,” he says.

Those prices and a dumping of good early rain have seen the mixed farmer plant more canola than barley for the second year in a row.

Despite high input prices, Fowler says the outlook remains upbeat for canola, in part because of the increasing demand for biofuel.

But not everyone’s had a win.

Flooding across parts of central western NSW has seen some crops downgraded and others wiped out entirely.

At Josh Curry’s property near West Wyalong, the rain has been falling all year – the longest dry spell he’s seen is just three weeks.

The mixed crop farmer says the “unprecedented rain” meant he had to sow his wheat crop by air at a cost of about $40,000.

Three months on, much of the 2000 hectares of wheat is a “disaster” and his canola is also waterlogged.

“Farmers around here, we’ve basically all written off this year and we’ll just try and salvage what we can,” he says.

The Quandialla farmer is staying upbeat, saying the wet weather will mean good moisture in dry times.

But with a third consecutive La Nina forecast for Australia this summer, farmers’ patience will likely be tested again when the headers start rolling.

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