March, 2022|System change

Long-term, focused RD&E investment delivers a $2 billion canola industry

In the last thirty years, investment by Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and research partners in a portfolio of targeted research and dedicated extension and adoption activities has unlocked the benefits of canola in Australia and helped create an industry that generates more than $2 billion every year.

In 1990–91, canola was sown over 150,000 hectares and produced 99,000 tonnes, averaging 0.66 tonnes per hectare. In 2020–21, canola was grown over 2.3 million hectares and produced 3.36 million tonnes, averaging 1.46 tonnes per hectare and forecast to be worth $2.4 billion.

This transformation has taken the canola industry from a $59 million industry to a $2 billion industry over 30 years (valuing canola at $600/t in 1990 and 2020).

Today, canola is the most important oilseed and broadleaf crop in Australia, and the third-largest grain crop overall. With more than two thirds of the national crop exported, Australia is a major player on the global export stage, dominating the European market where it is primarily used as a biofuel feedstock.

Canola’s versatility lies in the fact it can be processed into both oil and meal, which contributes to the stability of grower returns, particularly given the burgeoning growth in consumer and end-user demand for healthier oil alternatives, biofuels and meal for stockfeed.

In addition to its gross margin potential, canola provides agronomic benefits as a rotational break crop. The weed and disease control that canola provides to subsequent cereal crops leads to increased yields of 0.8 tonnes per hectare on average. Annually, this delivers an extra 1.47 million tonnes of cereal with an estimated value of $440 million (valuing wheat and barley at $300/tonne).

The transformation of the canola industry has been achieved by a concerted focus on research, development and extension (RD&E) in two areas: in breeding for improved yield, oil quality, disease
resistance and phenology traits; and in on-farm management for improved soil nutrition, soil pH, weed, disease and insect management, as well as improving sowing, windrowing and harvest timing.

GRDC has partnered with Universities, CSIRO, Departments of Agriculture, private providers and grower groups in canola RD&E, and GRDC’s investments effectively doubled the overall investment in the canola industry over the last 30 years.

It is estimated that about half of the yield gains made in canola production are due to improved management and about half are due to improved genetics. By ensuring that these benefits were primarily captured by grain growers, the industry has been able to double production every year since 1990.

These achievements required investments of significant scale. For example, between 2013–14 and2017–18 alone, GRDC invested more than $36 million in 67 canola research projects focusing on improving yield. With research partner contributions and in-kind support, the total industry investment in these projects totalled $76 million.

And these investments achieve results. Cost–benefit analysis shows that every dollar invested in canola research by GRDC and its research partners returned $2.78 in benefits to industry within the first five years, and the returns accrued significantly over time.

The 2020–21 canola crop is forecast to be 4.1 million tonnes and be worth $2.4 billion. The growth and impact achieved in the canola industry was only achieved because GRDC and co-investing partners focused on key criteria to improve canola crop development. While such growth is rarely replicated in other industries, GRDC is looking for similar opportunities in other crops and will target chickpeas and lentils to grow the values of these industries and the Australian agricultural sector