Safflower success - New Australian crop variety provides exciting prospects for grain growers

The recent commercialisation of super high oleic safflower crops is set to be a game changer for grain growers. Delta Agribusiness has signed a new exclusivity agreement with GO Resources, which has given Delta the distribution and marketing rights for super high oleic safflower crop growth in south east Queensland, NSW and Victoria. Research trials in various regional locations last year showed that despite dry conditions, the versatile safflower crop can be a valuable addition to various dryland and irrigated cropping systems, providing a number of strategic, agronomic and financial benefits, as well as cash return. “The addition of super high oleic safflower crops into the market is cutting edge. It’s a brand new crop which I think is going to be really exciting for the industry,” GO Resources Research and Development Lead, David Hudson says. “This is an Australian technology that has been developed and funded by the CSIRO and GRDC, then our Australian company GO Resources has brought this technology to the market, to the growers, and now we have partnered with an Australian company Delta Ag in its delivery, and that’s really unique and something we are really proud of.”

According to David, it was experiencing Delta’s approach in the paddock during field day events and trials at Goondiwindi and Quandialla during the 2019 season that affirmed their commitment and enthusiasm for innovation. “We were impressed with the way they had a real drive to produce new innovations for their growers with both agronomic and economic benefits for them,” David says. Safflower is a winter/spring growing crop that is heat and drought tolerant, proven performance in sodic and saline soils, is suited to both dryland and irrigation farming systems, has low inputs, is low maintenance and easy to grow. It can be used in rotations to effectively break the lifestyle of cereal root diseases like take-all and crown rot. It has an extensive root system which can break up hard-pans and create channels in the soil profile facilitating air and water movement. Delta Ag’s Executive Director and Group Manager Advisory Chris Duff is looking forward to the significant development and market prospects the crop will bring growers. “It is an alternative crop, it’s a risk splitting crop and has a wide sowing window which is another attraction.

“I think it will do well where canola has lost flavour in recent years. It has proven to be drought tolerant too and an alternative break crop in low to medium rainfall areas.” Chris says while safflower crops were planted 20 years ago, a lack of processing facilities and a declining market meant its growth diminished. “Over the years there has been development in specialty canola oils, but safflowers have a speciality market that is going to be classified as a premium oil in the industrial market and that is where the big interest is coming from,” Chris says. David adds, “We are seeing the opportunities in the bio-based oleo-chemical industry and particularly the lubricant industry sector where its benefits and performance are coming to the forefront. Compared to palm, HO soybean and HO canola oils, GO Resources super high oleic oil provides superior thermal properties and functionality which makes it ideal for use in industrial applications such as lubricants, plastics, polymers, cosmetics, paints and inks, biofuels and food. The results have been outstanding. We have had increasing interest in the US, Europe and in Australia. These markets are global markets.” In the 2019 season, 25 growers were involved in its market development year, with 1,700 hectares of GO Resources super high oleic safflower seed planted. “We had commercial release last year for the first time, and despite it being a drought year, we did get encouraging results and there is significant interest from farmers and agronomists planning to grow it this year,” David says. “The real opportunity seems to be in sodic and saline soils where growers have struggled to get canola to establish particularly in tough years. One of the benefits of safflower is that it has a very deep tap root and while last year the yield wasn’t as high as it could be, we had farmers who didn’t harvest any canola, but managed to harvest the safflower, so it’s definitely a semi drought tolerant crop.”

The safflower market opportunity is offered on a closed loop system, with a guaranteed ‘farm gate’ price of $650/mt at the start of the season, taking out the risk to the grower. Delta Agronomist Leigh Norton was involved in the growth of a safflower crop at “Willaroo”, 30km from Goondiwindi last year and is excited by positive results despite a dry year. “Last year unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of profile… but it has performed well in sodic soils and is a good break crop. We received 53mm of in-crop rain last year and achieved up to 2.2t/ha in some areas that were planted early,” Leigh says. “In these northern areas it definitely grew well at the start and seemed to tolerate frosts during the season and low rainfall. We are going to grow 100ha this season on the same property and we are in discussions with another grower who is looking for a different rotation. If it’s as frost tolerant as the research has shown, it’ll perform well in this region, we are just waiting on a trial screening herbicides to see what may work with weed control. With canola results up and down, it could definitely be the new canola for the north.” Safflower fits well into cereal cropping operations as no additional machinery is required, and David says that an advantage over canola is being able to direct head the crop eliminating the additional costs associated with windrowing. This season, under the new marketing and distribution arrangements, Delta Ag will be setting up trials, demonstrating to growers where super high oleic safflower can fit into their locations. Delta will then be managing these trials, signing grower contracts, and will be responsible for the distribution of the planting seed. “Our focus is really targeting south east Queensland, northern NSW, the Riverina and Victoria. The rain falling at the moment has been encouraging and it’s building significant interest from the growers and agronomists we have been in contact with and we are looking forward to Delta taking the market opportunity forward into the future,” David says.

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