Oilseed rape growers are being advised to minimise the chances of drilling contaminated seed this summer amid ongoing reports of high levels of erucic acid.
Crushers have been finding high levels of erucic acid in deliveries of oilseed rape seed into factories since April.
In extreme cases, growers have been hit with price penalties of £100/t after samples well above the Federation of Oils, Seeds and Fats Association 2% contractual maximum were recorded.
A small number of cases has seen erucic acid levels as high as 30% – enough to cause the finished oil product to be diverted into non-food uses.
The reason for the high levels is under investigation, but no concrete source has been confirmed.
A number of possible causes have been suggested, including contaminated seed, or contamination from brassica weeds, such as wild mustard or charlock.
As a result, a new rapid test measuring erucic acid levels at intake has been introduced at ADM’s rapeseed-processing facility in Erith, Kent.
A second crusher, Cargill, is also introducing rapid tests at intake at its Brocklebank processing plant in Liverpool.
The NFU said reports of high levels of erucic acid in OSR deliveries were a big concern, especially amid depressed crop prices and the ongoing cashflow crisis engulfing the industry.
“A lot of farmers are thinking about growing oilseed rape this autumn, so they need to be doubly careful about the purity [of seed],” said NFU vice-president Guy Smith.
“Farmers drilling home-saved seed must make sure it does not have any contamination. If unsure, the seed should be tested.
“If you use certified seed, you should ask the seed merchant to confirm and prove the erucic acid level of the seed supplied was under 2%.”
Essex grower Scott Morris, supplied oilseed rape to the ADM factory at Erith in April.
Mr Morris, who farms in Brentwood, said: “Some of our oilseed rape samples came back between 5-7%.
“The final penalty is being decided at the moment. The NFU is negotiating a sliding scale of deductions to deliveries above the 2% maximum.”
Owen Cligg, trading manager at farming co-operative United Oilseeds, said: “I understand that the penalty for erucic acid levels between 3-5% is set at £9.50/t.
“The contract says up to 2%, but up to 3% any penalty is discretionary. However, deliveries above 5% are being rejected outright.
“The £100/t only reflected deliveries up until harvest that were retrospective.”
Mr Cligg urged merchants and farmers to work together to try to identify the cause of the problem and work out how to alleviate it in the future.