Scientists have teamed up with farmers and industry to explore the possibility of growing organic oilseed rape (Canola) in Scotland for the first time.
It follows a fact-finding mission to Sweden, where approximately 10 per cent of the oilseed rape area is grown organically.
Canola is a potentially high-value break crop. There is demand for the oil for specialist livestock such as hens, while the high-protein meal is valuable as a ruminant feed.
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is leading the Scottish Organic Canola (SCOCAN) project with a £30,000 grant from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF).
The project, in turn, follows on from a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group. The initiative was originated by Norvite with a view to expanding the activities at its NEOS crushing plant facility in Aberdeenshire.
The animal feed company now has certification which allows its crushing facilities to be used for oil that can be sold for human use, with Germany among the main target markets.
Led by Dr Robin Walker and the research team at SRUC’s Aberdeen campus, the project will primarily be driven by farmers using a number of approaches, some based around the Swedish model, which included best options for establishing and fertilising the crop, as well as precision weed control.
Dr Walker said: “The securing of the KTIF funding provides a great opportunity to help facilitate and maintain a good dialogue between the various farmers and advisors who have taken on growing this novel organic crop, as well as other parties along the production and marketing chain interested in making this innovative crop a success.
“The project has provided a route for a more participative steer on what should be investigated within the demonstrations on the pilot farms as well as providing a number of opportunities to highlight the crop and the information derived from the SCOCAN project to the wider public.”
With guidance from agronomist Andy Cheetham from Ceres Agri Services, large plots of oilseed rape have been planted on five farms across the north east of Scotland: one in Moray, three in Aberdeenshire and one in Angus.
Three of the farms will host demonstrations during the growing season to follow progress of the crops, the first one to be held in late January. The on-farm trials also offer the opportunity to compare several aspects of agronomy including varieties and those that can be applied later in the season, including spring fertility, or pest, disease or weed control based on approaches allowed within organic management standards.
Edward Smith, managing director at Norvite and chair of the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA), said: “There is no documented evidence of organic canola currently being grown in Scotland of any scale and virtually none in the rest of the UK, so introducing this crop to Scotland, even at a small to moderate scale is innovative.
“The SCOCAN project will link the whole supply chain from Scottish soils through to consumers, which includes both livestock and human use of the products, with potential to open up new regional and export markets. These include locally produced organic high protein cake for livestock, as well as oil, for example for specialist poultry rations, or for human consumption.”
The first free on-farm demonstration, facilitated by SRUC and Ceres Agri Services and hosted by Chris Gospel, will take place at Auchmacleddie, Strichen, Fraserburgh on Thursday 23 January (12.30pm-3.30pm).