If you’ve driven through regional Australia around this time of year, you’re likely to see huge fields of yellow canola flowers heralding the warmer weather.
But most of this canola is not used within Australia. Instead, 1.8 million tonnes a year – 78% of Australia’s canola exports – are shipped to the European Union (EU) to be used in biodiesel. A recent report by the CSIRO has renewed the low-emissions status of Australia’s canola – an important step to sell to the EU market.
“This demonstrates that the emissions of Australia’s canola industry are well below the default allowing Australian canola growers to maintain access to important EU markets,” Dr Maartje Sevenster told an international canola conference in Sydney.
“To secure this ongoing certainty for our growers, we needed to demonstrate once again that canola can be grown at a low enough carbon footprint so that once all processes of shipping and refining are added, the final product can be delivered within the target emissions range.
“From 2 October this year, Australian canola will be used in European biofuels with the updated carbon footprint results.”
Despite not being a plant that many of us think about, it’s currently Australia’s second most valuable grain crop after wheat. It can be rotated with cereal and legume crops and doesn’t need to be grown in high quality soil.
It’s also one of the few crops in Australia that is allowed to be genetically modified (GM), and all states and territories (apart from Tasmania and ACT) allow GM canola to be grown. In 2021, 26% of Australia’s total canola was GM, mostly to modify the plant to make it more herbicide tolerant, although there has also been approval for a higher Omega-3 oil canola GM product.
The CSIRO report found that the emissions associated on average with Australia’s canola cultivation is 0.460 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of canola seed harvested.
“The greatest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (national average) came from the manufacture of fertiliser, with 50% of the total emissions, followed by CO2 from fuel use (14%),” the report states.
“Variation in greenhouse gas emissions between the States was largely driven by climate variables such as rainfall and evapotranspiration.”
Although the 0.460 tonnes of CO2 isn’t the full amount of emissions for the finished biodiesel product, it does give biofuel producers enough information to ensure they hit the EU’s targets for biofuel – 50-65% less greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels.
“This shows our canola farmers are leading the way in demonstrating solid environmental standards and social licence to operate,” said Australian Oilseeds Federation Nick Goddard. “Australia remains one of only a few non-European countries that continue to demonstrate low GHG emissions for canola production globally.”