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Canola crop at Colbinabbin

Canola has become a valued crop for its high protein contribution to animal feed and its ability to contribute economically and environmentally along the supply chain.

The adaptability of canola as an animal and human food, to return value to the grower and contribute to environmental sustainability, is largely unknown. As an animal food product, its contribution in crude protein terms is measurable and quantifiable across a range of livestock classes.

The journey of canola to animal feed begins in the paddock, where it is classified as GM (genetically modified), non-GM or high-oliec type. For Reid Stockfeeds (RSF), this classification is very important, with its guarantee to customers of non-GM product.

“Our canola meal is all non-GM. That’s a stipulation we make and our suppliers are very aware of it,” said Marcus Dingle, RSF commodity manager.

Part of the guarantee includes signing forward contracts with some growers for standing crop, during the growing season. It is also about being in regular contact with growers, with processors and the customers who rely on Reid’s for their stockfeed.

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Canola seed

Reid Stockfeeds buys processed meal from three suppliers, spreading risk and guaranteeing year-round supply across the industry.

In the past year, those relationships have meant RSF has been able to deliver stockfeed against growing demand in drought areas of Victoria, NSW and South Australia, where there is no pasture in the paddock – meeting the needs of sheep and cattle feedlots and breeders, dairy farmers, chicken and pig growers.

“The demand for sheep and lamb has jumped 50% in the last 12 months,” Marcus said.

“The demand for stockfeeds using canola meal has increased with less pasture in the paddock; and people running sheep feedlots, for example, are being rewarded on dressed weight for their feeding strategies.”

Reid’s has spread its risk – and consequently its clients’ risk – further by guaranteeing supply in 2020.

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The RSF Sales & Nutrition Team with members of Cargill.

For a processor like Cargill, the business strategy of RSF adds to their functionality – the Cargill mills at Footscray and Newcastle operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Canola meal is created from the seed using a lengthy processing method.

The raw product is identified as non-GM, GM or high-oliec type in the paddock, but undergoes rigorous testing as it arrives on-site at Footscray or Newcastle, to ensure the class of seed expected is the product that arrives. This testing is important to ensure only one class of seed is processed at a time, so customers at the end of the supply chain, are assured the livestock feed they buy meets the needs of the buyers of their product.

That assurance begins with knowing what the grower has sown in the paddock and managing a logistics process that coordinates truck movements from the silo to the factory; and is about ensuring no machinery cross-contamination between canola classes.

The tests include moisture content and oil content – the oil content can attract a premium for the grower. While testing is underway, the seed is sifted to eliminate byproduct of stones and stalks.

During processing, the seed is heated gradually, cooked at an elevated temperature, then mechanically pressed to express about 60% of the oil. The left-over product moves to the solvent extraction process, where hexane ensures most of the remaining oil is expressed.

“At this stage, 99.9% of the processing using hexane is in a closed loop circuit,” said Cargill’s Footscray plant manager, Mike Kilpatrick.

The hexane is reclaimed and re-used and much of the expressed canola oil is processed and utilised in food such as margarine.

The resulting canola meal is ground and stored; and regularly distributed to feed manufacturers to add to their products.

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Canola meal stored in a shed.

While RSF manufactures a range of standard stockfeeds, the bulk of their product is customised to customer’s needs. That’s where RSF employees like Kelly Slattery, senior ruminant nutritionist, work with the farmer, their agronomist and vet and – in the case of the dairy industry – a milk company field officer, as a team. Her role is to understand what commodity the farmer is producing, for which market, and how stockfeeds can help deliver results.

“You get a rounded view of their business. The nutritionist would normally visit the farm or feedlot to see their infrastructure setup, so our advice can be tailored,” Kelly said.

In some feedlots, the meal product is mixed with chopped silage and other dry matter; in other feedlot setups, fodder is fed separate to grain.

“Typically, we formulate rations to meet the nutrition guidelines for different livestock types,” Kelly said.

“We monitor animal health – we check the manure and make sure no animal is scouring.

“For dairy calves, the feed is formulated based on age and liveweight, as well as if they are drinking milk (while young) and grazing pasture (older) – so the animals get the balance of protein they require to lay down muscle or fat.

“In a feedlot, we’ll visit when the lambs arrive and monthly.

“Canola meal is quite a safe and palatable product and its value is as a protein source – so it’s ideal when fresh pasture is not available, or as part of a balanced diet that includes grazing green grass.

“There’s also no withholding period on meat or milk.”