WA’s ‘broken’ canola seed supply system leaves seed suppliers and farmers frustrated and disappointed

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Camera IconCanola. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

WA’s “broken” canola seed supply system is frustrating seed suppliers, resellers and farmers, with growers storing large volumes of last year’s record crop in their sheds in a desperate bid to shore up supply.

It is the latest development in the ongoing saga between the three parties, with WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels calling this year’s canola seed supply chain “a disaster”.

Mr Fels said just a quarter of his three-tonne seed order arrived this month, when he was nearly finished seeding canola, despite placing his requirements with a reputable seed reseller in June last year.

He said the reseller cast most of the blame on the seed company but had managed to “scratch around” and find him another 500kg of a different variety of canola seed to make do.

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Mr Fels said he had been forced to plant most of his program with leftover, non-genetically modified triazine tolerant second-generation seed that had been sitting in his shed after last year’s seeding program.

Farmers are allowed to retain non-GM canola seed on farm but GM seed is protected by intellectual property rules, meaning farmers must pledge not to save and replant or sell any of it.

“The only other alternative to second-rate seed is not planting any canola, and that has a huge impact in term of lost yield potential,” Mr Fels said.

“This happens every year to varying degrees, but this is the worst year I have seen.

“This seed supply issue is hamstringing WA’s canola seed industry.”

The Grain Industry Association of WA’s first crop report for the 2022-23 grain growing season revealed the volume of canola seed retained in farmers’ sheds had caused “forecasting issues” for seed production companies, which had “voiced difficulty in matching demand when they are unsure of supply requirements”.

The report encouraged growers to “make the system smoother” and offer “long term commitments” to seed suppliers planning their breeding programs to “ensure supply will be met on-farm”.

But Mr Fels said there was an unfair onus on the growers, which WAFarmers representatives had voiced in a meeting with GIWA oilseeds chair Peter Bostock last month.

“Some growers order double or triple what they need... because they know they are only going to get a quarter of what they have ordered,” Mr Fels said.

“I ordered the exact tonnage I needed and this is what has happened to me.

“We need to shake the whole system up so growers only order what they need and seed companies and resellers supply those orders in a suitable timeframe.

“The market is broken and failing — there is no true, honest, information supply from the buyer to the seller.”

In the report, GIWA crop report author Mike Lamond said farmers in the Albany West and Esperance Port Zones in particular were finding it difficult to source hybrid canola seed and the limited supply could dampen yield potential.

“Sowing the best available varieties for the region and time of sowing plays a big part in reaching this potential,” he said.

“The region (Albany West) is a regular buyer of hybrid seed and the lack of availability is a major concern.”

Concerns were raised at GIWA’s WA Oilseeds Field Day in Northam in August, where Coorow farmer Rod Birch told crowds that many farmers had the expectation just a third of their canola would arrive each year.

Mr Birch was about two-thirds of the way through his seeding program this week but has had to pull up stumps because he has run out canola seed, with his fingers crossed for another delivery.

“There needs to be a solution for growers and seed production companies,” he said.

“We plan our canola rotations two, three years in advance, so we are able to predict how much seed we will need that far in advance. The current system is not working.”

WA grain growers planted a record 1.6 million hectares of canola last year and harvested a record 3.13 million tonnes of the precious black seed, with the huge canola yields alone pumping a record $2 billion into the State’s economy.

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