Are WA farmers heading down the most lucrative canola path?
Richard Hudson
ABC Rural, 16 November    2011

Are West Australian farmers doing themselves a disservice by choosing to plant more genetically modified (GM) canola crops?

The two biggest acquirers of WA grown canola are saying the strongest message coming from their biggest customer is "We are prepared to pay more for non-genetically modified canola with a 'sustainable' accreditation".

So if WA farmers gradually increase the amount of GM canola (compared to non- GM canola) will they end up sacrificing a key market advantage currently held over countries such as Canada?

Today there was a $40 dollar difference between the prices (per tonne) on offer for WA's GM and Non GM canola.

Sally Porter is Cooperative Bulk Handling's quality and technical manager for their protein and oil seeds team and she says Europe's Renewable Energy Directive and their new sustainability requirements are driving the price difference.

"Our customers in Europe want sustainable canola and they also want non-GM canola."

She says even though the main buyers want the canola for their biofuel industries, they also want to use the by-products for animal and human consumption and in Europe those markets demand non GM produce.

CBH was accredited for the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) scheme in April.

Sally says about 300 farmers signed up for the 2010/11 season and so far about 700 growers have signed up for the 2011/12 season.

Interest is growing due to the price premium on offer for this sustainable non GM market.

She expects even more farmers to put their hand up once CBH and those involved with the ISCC have simplified the accreditation system for Australian growers. (She hopes that will be achieved within about three months)

In the last few weeks Graincorp, Gavilon and Glencore were also accredited as marketers for the ISCC scheme.

Canola trader for Glencore Grain Australia Peter Tustin says they are involved because of the price premium but he thinks WA farmers will end up getting less for their canola if they over-commit on GM varieties.

He says currently Europe pays "quite a decent premium above Canadian levels...and if we were to have a big shift to GM in WA then our price competitiveness will have to be marked against Canada who is the biggest exporter of GM canola."