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Erucic acid opportunities

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The production of high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR) crops can earn UK growers £150/hectare more than conventional ‘00’ OSR. We look at the opportunities for UK growers.

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The production of high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR) crops can earn UK growers £150/hectare more than conventional ‘00’ OSR, and is a growth area for speciality crop merchant Premium Crops.

 

Although the market for HEAR has remained relatively static in recent years, Premium Crops has secured contracts with European buyers and says it is looking for more UK acreage this autumn.

 

HEAR oil is valued by industry for its lubricating properties and appears in products as diverse as paint and plastics to hair conditioners and lubricants on North Sea oil rigs.

 

Erucic acid is often converted into a product, called erucamide, which is a slip agent in cling film. Therefore, Premium Crops says the world market for HEAR oil remains strong and UK growers can benefit from higher premiums available, explaining the current £35/tonne HEAR premium and the FOSFA 26A bonuses could result in a 20% boost to gross margins for harvest 2019 crops.

 

HEAR variety yields are comparable with mainstream ‘00’ hybrids, and in a network of bespoke trials commissioned by Premium Crops and published on premiumcrops.com, as the HEAR Descriptive List. The agronomy of HEAR is exactly the same as for ‘00’ varieties.

 

The top HEAR hybrids, Ergo and Rocca, both perform well for seed yield across a wide range of soil types and locations. The shorter plant height and earlier maturity of Ergo can be best exploited in medium to higher fertility and heavy land situations, while higher biomass variety Rocca will deliver on medium to lighter land locations. Despite being outclassed for yield, the oldest variety Palmedor remains a benchmark for reliability and consistency.


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Rapeseed pollen is heavy, sticky and designed for insect transfer so cross-pollination between neighbouring OSR crops is minimal and the risk declines rapidly over a very short distance.

 

This was one conclusion of a review paper by the University of Hertfordshire, commissioned by Premium Crops.

 

Recent reports of the presence of elevated erucic acid levels in ‘00’ oilseed rape and the EU’s plan to reduce the maximum permitted level of erucic acid in rapeseed oil for food use to 2% has stimulated speculation as to the cause.

 

Keen to gain a better understanding of the issue, in 2017, Premium Crops asked the University of Hertfordshire to expose those potential sources.

 

Contamination

 

Feral populations of plants carrying the elevated erucic acid character are identified as a more likely source of contamination. Erucic acid levels in oil are genetically controlled, the genes for elevated erucic acid levels are dominant and those genes exist in a multitude of different weed and crop species. Such feral populations could come from:

 

  • Legacy oilseed rape varieties existing in the soil as seed from decades earlier. These could be varieties from before the introduction of low erucic acid rapeseed in the mid-1970s or forage rape varieties which, even today, have elevated erucic acid levels.
  • Local wild survivors of those earlier crops persisting in hedgerows and as volunteers.
  • Related weed species, such as wild radish, wild mustard, charlock, cranesbill and hedge mustard.
  • Farm saved seed.

 

The University of Hertfordshire report concludes it is possible to maintain ‘00’ quality in crops for food use through good farming practice. Wider rotations (minimum one year in four), ‘stale seedbed’ techniques and the use of certified seed were all highlighted as ways to minimise field contamination.

 

Growers concerned by such issues can ultimately avoid the problem by growing HEAR. Feral plants with elevated erucic acid have a minimal effect on HEAR crops grown deliberately for high erucic acid.

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Erucic acid derivatives usage

  • Erucamide: The largest selling derivative of erucic acid and is used as a slip agent in polyolefin film (cling film) with a world market in excess of 171,000 tonnes. Erucamide has excellent anti-static properties
  • Pelargonic acid: Uses in plastics, coatings, perfumes, cosmetics and flavours
  • Brassylic acid: Has applications in the manufacture of nylons, polyesters, synthetic lubricants and paints
  • Behenic acid: Uses include low irritant quaternary ammonium compounds (common in hair conditioners), mixing and processing aids
  • Behenyl fumarate: Used as a biodegradable polymerised flow improver on North Sea drilling rigs

Erucic acid levels in weeds

  • Wild radish (raphanus raphanistrum): 26.7%
  • Wild mustard (brassica kaber): 31.5%
  • Charlock (sinapis arvensis): 31.7%
  • Cranesbill (geranium dissectum): 9.9%
  • Hedge mustard (erysimium officinale): 20.9%

 

Source: NFU erucic acid timeline

For more information

02392632883 info@premiumcrops.com www.premiumcrops.com

Whitedale Farm, East Street, Hambledon, Hampshire, PO7 4RZ

Premium Crops a division of Cefetra Ltd

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