Seed processors take responsible approach to Erucic acid

Arable Posted 11/01/19
Guidance on Erucic Acid if farm saving oil seed rape.

The National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) mobile seed processors are taking a responsible approach to erucic acid testing in oil seed rape, continuing to encourage growers to test seed before farm saving. This comes after an NAAC pilot scheme in 2018, which highlighted a minority of seed samples intended for farm saving that had a high level of erucic acid; the results of which allowed growers to take informed decisions on whether or not to go ahead with processing and drilling, helping to minimise the risk of any additional financial penalty in the marketed crop.

The presence of high erucic acid levels in double zero varieties continues to cause problems for growers and crushers of oilseed rape. There are a number of possible reasons for this including previously having grown HEAR, weed contamination and possible links to levels in seed. While it is not a safety concern for most consumers, oilseed rape contracts stipulate a maximum of 2% erucic acid and, currently, loads are rejected over 5%, with those between 2% and 5% incurring price penalties. There also remains an imminent threat that the European Commission may tighten up food standard to a maximum 2%, so it is important that farmers and seed processors get this problem under control and it is acknowledged that not testing seed batches prior to farm saving may exacerbate the problem.

In 2018 NAAC mobile seed processors encouraged growers to test oil seed rape before saving, with some achieving a 100% level of erucic acid testing. This voluntary testing scheme is to be extended into 2019, aiming to get all seed tested before farm saving to help growers tackle and stamp out the problem.

The NAAC has also published guidance on farm saving oil seed rape, in partnership with the NFU, which is available at www.naac.co.uk/industry-information/. The guidance highlights further the importance of testing and advises growers on growing, managing and testing seed prior to farm saving.

Commenting, Robert White, NAAC mobile seed vice-chairman said: “Mobile seed processors see themselves as part of the solution to this problem - helping their customers make well informed business decisions. Our growers will not thank us if we don’t highlight any potential issues at an early stage. It might cost us a contract or two but we must take a long term view that what is good for our customers will ultimately be better for us.”

Testing for erucic acid is now common and usually costs around £50-£60 per test and results are back within a week. Mobile seed processors will be able to offer and organise the testing service so that growers can make an educated decision from a position of knowledge. Farm saving oil seed rape is still a very cost-effective method of getting quality seed in the ground and testing for erucic acid should be viewed as a positive way of ensuring good crop management.

Guidance on Erucic Acid if Farm Saving Oil Seed Rape

Importance of Erucic Acid

The majority of rape grown in the UK is of the double zero type which is suitable for human and animal consumption. These varieties are low in erucic acid, which is a naturally occurring monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid contaminant present in vegetable oil. It is not a safety concern for most consumers as average exposure is less than half the safe level, although there may be an increased health risk to children up to 10 years of age (according to the European Food Safety Authority).

Erucic enters the food chain when rapeseed oil is used in industrial food processing and home cooking.

Oilseed rape contracts stipulate a maximum of 2% erucic acid, but rapeseed oil can be used in the food industry up to a 5% level. Currently, rapeseed loads are rejected over 5%, and loads between 2% and 5% can incur price penalties.

The European Commission is considering tightening the food standard to a maximum 2%, which the UK would most likely concur to.

Whilst there have been generally low levels of erucic acid in rapeseed, these have been creeping up over the past few years leading to price penalties and rejections of oilseed rape loads. There are a number of possible reasons for this including previously having grown HEAR, weed contamination and a possible link to levels in seed.

In 2018, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) Seed Processing Members advised customers to start testing for erucic acid prior to processing and drilling oil seed rape seed. This pilot scheme highlighted a percentage of seed that was subsequently not farm saved, to avoid the additional risk of a financial penalty at the sale of the crop, due to raised levels of erucic acid.

This guidance aims to assist farmers considering farm saving oil seed rape.

It provides pragmatic solutions to try and avoid high levels of erucic acid in the crop and the risk of financial penalties or crop rejection. It should be used alongside other industry measures, such as NFU guidance* to take a responsible approach to reducing the levels of erucic acid in the crop.

It is sensible to consider the following before farm saving oil seed rape:

  • Identify where you plan to farm save seed. Avoid fields where HEAR rape has been grown previously in the rotation. Volunteers can last for an estimated 15-20 years so you need to consider the history of the field.
  • Avoid farm saving seed from fields where high levels of erucic acid have been recorded in previous crops.
  • Inspect the crop regularly and ensure weeds and volunteers are absent in the crop. Remove volunteers between rows.
  • Store and manage any seed for farm saving separately at harvest.
  • Get seed tested for levels of erucic acid, prior to farm saving. NAAC Processors can carry out the test and the cost is approx. £50-£60 per batch (+VAT).
  • Your seed processor can carry out the sampling, but key points are to:
    • Take samples from many points (minimum of 10 but ideally more) in the batch of seed or heap as the erucic acid content can vary widely within a bulk of oilseed rape seed;
    • Use a sampling spear if possible, to sample from different depths in the batch of seed;
    • Mix the sub-samples together thoroughly to form a composite sample. Take the final sample from the composite sample and keep one back on the farm in case of any query.
  • If results are over 0.5% erucic acid, then you are advised not to farm save the seed, as there may be an increased risk of a higher percentage in the finished crop and therefore a risk of rejection or financial penalty.
  • Retain a sample of the seed and identify the original certification number, variety and field. This may be needed should any issues arise. The seed processor will also retain a sample of the seed.

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