Cold presses boost for canola press

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The installation of new European cold-press facilities at Aus Oils' canola crushing plant in Kojonup is likely to double production from this year.

Aus Oils managing director Jon Slee, who co-manages the business with Joe Young, said the operation was likely to buy about 20,000 tonnes of canola from South West farmers this year, up from less than 10,000 tonnes annually in recent years.

He said the plant, which had been in operation since 1996, was now phasing out the use of its mechanical press, which uses a heat-based extraction process, after the installation earlier this year of four cold presses from Germany.

The new crushing room had been designed and built for further cold presses to be installed, so production could potentially increase further, Mr Slee said.

By moving to the new cold-press system, the plant is able to produce a better quality oil for its customer base, which is dominated by WA fast-food outlets and restaurants.

"A lot of natural antioxidants, vitamin E and tocopherols are destroyed via heat. Cold pressing does not do that, so the end product is superior," Mr Slee said.

Mr Slee said customers of the end product, who purchased it after the crushed oil was refined by Aus Oils' partner Alba Oils at Hamilton Hill, had welcomed the higher-quality cold-pressed oil.

Although there was considerable investment in the new plant, the wholesale price for the end product had not increased.

Instead, the main returns on investment would be achieved through greater efficiency, Mr Slee said.

"We have halved our carbon footprint; the mechanical extraction method uses a lot of heat," he said.

"Our old equipment was using technology that was pushing 20 years old; the new equipment is run far more efficiently.

"Other than the odd teething problem, the new plant is fully automated and can run unmanned, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Mr Slee said another exciting development was the prospect of creating extra virgin canola oil, which would be sold as a niche premium product for use in salads and dips.

"We are talking to and getting good feedback from some of the high-end restaurants and boutique fresh-food retailers about an extra virgin canola oil product," he said.

To create the extra virgin canola oil, the cold-pressed oil would not be refined.

Instead, it would require a filtration step before being bottled.

The wholesale extra virgin canola price is expected to be about double that of the mainstream canola oil product.

Mr Slee said the market potential and interest for extra virgin canola oil was very exciting.

"There is also a considerable export demand for export virgin canola oil," he said.

"If we could tap into that, this could account for up to 20 per cent of the end use for our oil."

Mr Slee said there was demand to go an extra step and supply an organic extra virgin oil product.

However, the challenge was reluctance from farmers to grow organic canola, because Australian certification standards required zero tolerance to GM contamination which he said was not realistic or workable.

Another local opportunity he envisages is crushing linseed oil for the health food market.

Darkan farmer Tim Harrington is trialling linseed plantings this year, which will be crushed at Aus Oils.

To keep the plant operational year round, Mr Slee said he negotiated forward contracts with farmers for on-farm storage and paid a monthly carry fee.

He said new contracts for the year ahead would be issued around harvest time.

In addition to producing oil, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the seed crushed and around 60 per cent of the company's returns, there is a separate market for the meal, which is high in protein and typically sold to livestock producers for feed.

The meal goes through a hammer mill to produce a coarse flour-type product that was high in protein yet still benefited from some residual oil as a good energy source, Mr Slee said.

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