17 November 1995

OSR potential stifled by flawed calculations

INDUSTRIAL oilseed rape production which is capped in the EU by the Blair House agreement could be greatly increased without breaking the rules, it is claimed.

The restriction was caused by the USAs insistence that meal produced by EU industrial crops like soya, sunflower and rape grown on set-aside should not exceed the equivalent of 1m tonnes of soya bean meal.

The aim was to protect the American share of the animal feed market, Rad Thomas, chairman of the NFU Oilseed, Protein and Fibre Crops Committee, told a recent Zeneca Seeds seminar.

The European Commission reckons no more than 900,000ha (2.2m acres) of oilseed rape on set-aside can be grown without exceeding that figure. Production was within 10% of that this year.

If that is exceeded, the EU must take appropriate "corrective action". A recent proposal is for set-aside payments to be cut on industrial oilseed crops, possibly by 0.35% for each 1% overshoot.

But Mr Thomas believes the commissions original calculation, based on the relative protein and fat content of the meals, was flawed. He says using ingdigestibility would double the area that could be grown.

"It is wholly unsatisfactory and unacceptable. But there is still room for negotiation. We think the commission has a responsibility to get the figures right."

Finding alternative uses for the meal which do not compete with soya could raise the area further, he adds. "This would be outside any legitimate claim the Americans have on by-products."

Seven German companies are studying this, and they say alternatives will be found within 18 months. What they propose is unclear, although burning meal as a fuel is one possibility.

Without those changes, current restrictions will "stifle a fledgling industry", says Mr Thomas. "It is important the sector is allowed to develop. It has huge potential, especially in oleochemicals and pharmaceuticals. But if that potential is to be realised, it will result in well over the current area limit." &#42