New canola has exciting aquaculture possibilities

BASF and Cargill have developed what’s being called a “groundbreaking” canola, which they believe could expand demand the way high oleic canola did for the in-dustry.

The oil produced from their EPA/DHA canola will be used as a re-placement for fish oil in aquaculture diets.

“What this does is really create a new market opportunity, which is not in the basic commodity area,” said Lorin Debonte, assistant vice-president of research and development in Cargill’s food ingredient and bioindustrial business.

“I think it has tremendous benefits for agriculture in being able to diversify current crops or current supply chains.”

Canola and other oilseed crops like soybeans and flax produce alpha-linolenic acid, a short-chain omega-3 oil.

The crop BASF created, which Cargill will be breeding, contracting and marketing, produces eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two long-chain omega-3 oils.

Organizations like the American Heart Association cite the heart health and brain development benefits of consuming EPA and DHA by eating fish, but studies show most people do not consume enough.

That is one reason the aquaculture industry has taken off. Farmed fish get their EPA and DHA by consuming fish oil, which comes from harvesting and grinding up wild fish.

Debonte said growth in the aquaculture industry has been constrained by the high price and limited supply of fish oil.

Cargill demonstrated in salmon feeding trials in Chile that it was able to completely replace fish oil in feed rations with oil from its EPA/DHA canola.

Grand View Research recently published a study forecasting that the global fish oil market will grow to US$4.08 billion by 2022 from $2.25 billion in 2014. Aquaculture accounted for $1.97 billion of the market in 2014.

Debonte doesn’t think the specialty canola oil will displace fish oil, but it will add to the much-needed supply of a source of EPA/DHA and reduce the pressure on ocean fisheries.

“What we’re doing is providing the opportunity for the aquaculture industry to grow,” he said.

Cargill is in the process of analyzing the last year of trials for the product and will be submitting the trait for global regulatory approval this year.

The approval process typically takes four years, but it can be shorter or longer. Once approvals are in place, the trait would be commercialized in Canada and the United States.

Brett Halstead, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, welcomed news of the new canola trait, which was created by transferring a pathway or series of genes from cold water algae into canola.

“If they can develop a market and we can grow it and be profitable, that’s good news,” he said.

Debonte said the EPA/DHA canola would add to the three million acres of specialty canola grown in North America, which is primarily high oleic canola.

“This has the potential to continue to grow in that size of a share,” he said.

Debonte said he doesn’t expect the new trait will expand canola acres, but it should increase grower returns through price premiums.

Performance trials have shown the EPA/DHA canola delivers yields similar to Victory, which is the top 10 percent of canola yields. It also has the same oil and protein content as Victory.

The biggest challenge will be how to segment the crop.

Cargill already has a segregation system in place for high oleic canola but this one is going to be more difficult because EPA/DHA is not a stable oil and can easily go rotten.

“That’s why fish smell. What you’re smelling is the degradation of the EPA and DHA,” said Debonte.

“What we don’t want is to move that into a supply chain where people want clean flavour, high stability oils.”

Contracting and management of the supply chain is going to have to be extremely tight. Growers won’t be permitted to grow EPA/DHA canola followed by commodity or high oleic canola due to possible volunteer plants the following year.

“It will change the dynamics of how canola will be contracted on the farm,” he said.

Halstead said growers can manage a tight identity preservation system as long as they are provided with a clear explanation of their obligations.

“There are people that grow high erucic rapeseed yet and that very much can’t enter the canola market either,” he said.

But he said there must be premiums that go along with the extra work involved with segregating the crop and disrupting rotations.

Debonte said there will also have to be some changes in the handling and processing system.

“We’ll have to design more specialized processing and integrated supply chains to manage the end quality of the product,” he said.

Cargill engineers are looking at designing small, specialized crush plants that would take into account factors such as exposure to light and air, which causes the oil to oxidize and go rotten.

It would be a big departure from Canada’s high efficiency bulk handling system.

Cargill believes it can manufacture oil that will be price-competitive with fish oil and will become more price-competitive as canola yields continue to rise.

In 2015, Cargill purchased EWOS, one of the world’s largest suppliers of feed and nutrition for farmed fish, so the EPA/DHA canola will fit into its plans for an integrated supply chain.

BASF and Cargill are not the only ones working on the trait.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is developing a DHA canola in conjunction with the Australian Grains Re-search and Development Corporation and Nuseed.

CSIRO said it is close to commercializing a product.

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