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Seeking opportunities in alternative OSR markets

Even in a stagnant market, growing specialist forms of OSR can provide healthy premiums without having to make changes to crop agronomy. Abby Kellett reports.

Abby   Kellett

Abby   Kellett

As well as providing a break in the rotation, oilseed rape crops grown for alternative markets such as high oleic low linoleic (HoLL) or high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR), can provide healthy premiums when contract specifications are met.


So with premiums typically of £25-£35 per tonne over conventional double zero OSR, why are so few growers targeting these smaller markets?


Although there is demand for more specialised forms of OSR, the market for both HoLL and HEAR has stagnated in recent years. Up until 2016, the amount of HoLL OSR grown in the UK was on the increase, but in 2016 the market share peaked at 6% and has remained fairly static ever since.


The lack of growth is said to be because of competition from high oleic sunflower oil (HOSO). Dr Amandeep Kaur Purewal, AHDB senior analyst, says: “While HoLL is a promising market which demands a premium of about £25/t over conventional rapeseed oil, its main competition is high oleic sunflower oil, a market which has been established for longer. This is holding the HoLL market back at the moment.”


But given demand for healthy, locally sourced food, Dr Kaur Purewal believes HoLL OSR, which contains particularly low levels of saturated fat, is where growth is most likely to occur.


“The main opportunity is likely to be from the food side. If we can get more promotion around the health benefits of HoLL rapeseed oil over the likes of olive oil, this market could expand over the coming years.”


Geoff Hall, seeds and traits commercial lead with HoLL breeder Monsanto takes a similarly positive view. “We’ve had huge overproduction of HOSO over the last two to three years, primarily from eastern Europe but also from South America and this has generally made prices quite unattractive. Sunflower prices dropped and as there was so much HOSO. The HoLL premium dropped as well.


“But the HoLL price is back to being competitive with HOSO, which is good news. The latest data shows there is a slight discount on the HoLL premium versus the HOSO which is also good news. It means the base price is positive for us on rape versus sunflower and there is still a premium.”


The size of the UK HEAR market has also remained fairly static in recent years according to Premium Crops commercial director Chris Bedding.


Last year about 25,000 hectares of HEAR was grown in the UK accounting for about 4% of the UK rapeseed area.


Premiums of about £35/t over double zero OSR should make it an attractive proposition for UK growers, says Mr Bedding.


“Although the market has been fairly flat, Premium Crops have recently gained a new contract due to the fact we have displaced one of our European producers, so we are looking for more HEAR growers.”


The current £35/t HEAR premium could result in a 20% boost to gross margins for 2019 according to Premium Crops.

Mr Bedding says: “Yields of HEAR varieties are now comparable to conventional OSR and the agronomy is exactly the same so it is definitely something growers should look at.


“HEAR seed can be more expensive, but the healthy premiums which are now on offer more than make up for this cost.”


Rapeseed characteristics

Estimate of UK rapeseed area

Acid content

Main uses


(double zero)


<65% oleic acid

>10% linoleic

<2% erucic acid

Biodiesel, vegetable oil


High oleic, low linolenic


>75% oleic acid

<4% linoleic acid

Vegetable oil (low levels of saturated fat)


High erucic acid rapeseed


>45% erucic acid

Printing ink, lubricants, cosmetics and consumable spreads

Source: Adapted from Monsanto, Premium Crops and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds

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The main differences in agronomy between conventional and specialist oil OSR crops come in preventing contamination from weeds and brassica volunteers to ensure the quality of the HoLL or HEAR profile is preserved and contract specifications are met. Clearfield varieties, which possess tolerance to selective herbicides, have been particularly useful in ensuring potentially contaminant weed species can be sprayed off in the growing crop.


Will Vaughan-France, Dekalb technical specialist, says: “Weeds such as charlock and wild radish can have very high levels of erucic acid, which can contaminate low erucic acid rapeseed, leading to penalty fines or rejection. Therefore, if these kinds of weed species are a known problem on your farm, it may be worthwhile opting for a Clearfield variety to minimise this risk.”


Choosing appropriate sites to grow specialised varieties is also necessary.“It is important to think carefully about which sites are appropriate to plant HoLL or HEAR varieties on. For example, I would not use a HoLL or a double zero variety where there was known to be a lot of high erucic acid volunteers.


“There are also management practices which you could use to minimise the germination of brassica weeds, such as low disturbance drilling, which increases your chances of meeting contract specifications,” says Mr Vaughan-France.

The impact of Brexit

Another factor which is likely to unsettle the rapeseed market is Brexit.


Dr Kaur Purewal says: “We export most oilseed rape as seed, which does not have an export tariff on and so whether or not we have to oblige to WTO rules, exporting seed into the EU will still be tariff free.


“However, oil does have a tariff associated with it which can be anything from 6-9%. Depending on what deal we make with the EU, it could affect domestic rapeseed values because of the impact it would have on crush margins.”

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