Declining UK rapeseed production: not just a little crush issue
A recent article in Farmers’ Weekly reported on concerns expressed by Martin Farrow, general manager of ADM Oilseeds, that the current structure of UK crushing is probably not sustainable as UK rapeseed harvests shrink year after year.
While Farrow was unavailable to comment for this article, we interviewed Angela Bowden, secretary general at SCOPA (Seed Crushers & Oil Processors Association). She confirmed that “the UK crush industry has the capacity to process in excess of the current crop and needs to use this processing capacity to remain viable”.
“A smaller UK crush would mean lower rapeseed meal production, which is a key feedstock for animals in the UK. This would mean more imported proteins, including soy meal, used in animal feed,” said Bowdon.
Latest forecasts from AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) anticipate a UK crop of around 1.1m tons this year. This represents a significant contraction from five or six years ago, when the UK’s crop was 2m tons.
“Rapeseed growers have had a really challenging couple of years with the weather and pest damage – they have had everything thrown at them,” Vikki Campbell, AHDB’s arable market specialist, told FeedNavigator.
“Growers have had to contend with a wet winter, which destroyed many crops, followed by a dry April/May – a key time of year for crop development. That is why supply will be tight this year,” she added.
From a crushing industry point of view, there is the option of importing from the EU and Ukraine, as well as Canada and Australia later in the season.
However, EU rapeseed production is not looking much better, having fallen by over 30% over the last five years, from over 24m tons in 2014 to less than 17m in 2019, according to AHDB.
AHDB predicts this year’s EU harvest at 16.5m tons.
There are also issues with UK crushers importing rapeseed from the EU, not least because the EU countries have their own crushing industry capacity to keep on-line.
“Europe also has capacity which requires adequate levels of domestic production,” noted Bowden, adding: “A reduction in EU rapeseed production will most likely see Europe become even more reliant on imported seed from Australia and Canada.”
Will crushers look east?
The other origin to consider is the Ukraine, whose crop usually sets the floor, price wise.
“The Ukraine’s crop is not looking as large as last year but is still a decent crop. I imagine we will see front-loading of Ukrainian imports into the UK and EU as buyers look to replenish their stocks,” said Campbell.
However, the Ukraine’s continued use of neonicotinoids could be a fly in the ointment for UK crushers.
“Ukrainian growers can still use neonicotinoids, which make this origin cheaper, but UK and EU growers can’t apply them to their own crops,” said Campbell.
Another issue with processing imported seed is that the UK crushing industry is not set up for it, as Bowden explains.
“The UK crush industry was set up to crush domestic seed delivered on trucks; using imported seed adds more costs to transport the goods from deep-water port facilities to the crush plants, which makes UK crushers uneconomical compared to other European crush plants,” she said.
Pest management solutions needed
AHDB’s spring PVS (Planting & Variety Survey) does nothing to allay concerns about oilseed rape planting in the UK.
According to the survey, early indications suggest growers are not favoring oilseed rape in future rotations and that growers are weary of growing this crop, due to issues with poor yields and pest infestations.
“We need to find science solutions to address pest problems, but it is also vital that we develop new crop management solutions, which will in part be science-based, but should also address and adapt current working practices,” said Bowdon.