Department of Agriculture scientists are working with farmers to further develop Western Australia's burgeoning canola oil seed industry, seen by many as an exciting export prospect.
Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge said the industry had the potential to build on recent Japanese sales to bring in millions more export dollars if plantings were increased.
He said WA's canola production last season of more than 16,000 tonnes was the highest for 20 years, and this season's forecast, while not as high, was still strong at about 12,000 tonnes.
"This is a dramatic turnaround from just a few years ago when our total crop had fallen to just 750 tonnes," he said.
Canola use continues to expand both domestically and internationally, with the oil predominantly used for margarine and as a cooking oil.
The tiny black canola seed contains about 40 per cent premium quality oil, and the crushed residue is a valuable poultry feed.
Mr Bridge said a large proportion of the WA crop was able to be processed in the State, with a crusher now located at Pinjarra and a refinery at Bunbury.
"The establishment of a stable crushing facility in WA has been a major plus for both import replacement and jobs, while Grain Pool initiatives to secure pre-sowing guaranteed minimum purchase prices for the seed have further enhanced the attractiveness of the industry for growers," he said.
About 10,000 tonnes were crushed at Pinjarra by Davison Oils last season, and Mr Bridge said he understood the company was looking to increase that capacity.
"At the same time, we have a major opportunity to develop a long-term export niche for canola seed," he said.
For the first time in 20 years, WA last year exported about 5,000 tonnes of canola seed worth about $1.5 million to Japan. The export seed was surplus to domestic processing capacity.
Early forecasts suggest most of this year's crop will be absorbed by the domestic market, but if plantings were expanded next year, Mr Bridge said growers could look to secure further lucrative export contracts.
"Considering the Japanese market imports around two million tonnes of canola annually, there is tremendous potential for us to lift that market share," he said.
This season, a new canola variety, Narendra, bred by the Department of Agriculture, would be grown in the State's medium rainfall areas.
Government and industry were providing in excess of $140,000 in 1992-93 to continue research and development programs.
Mr Bridge said the department had two specialists working full-time on canola research. One was investigating the rotational value of canola in farm systems, and also the role of simazine tolerant canola, with the aim of an early release of simazine tolerant cultivar. He was also involved in evaluation of interstate variety trials, blackleg resistance testing, and evaluation of early flowering materials.
The second officer, based in Katanning, was involved in dissemination of research findings, grower knowledge and market information to canola producers, and the rapid transfer of information on industry problems to research and marketing organisations.