June 21, 2022
Profitable service crops: winter crucifers have their revenge
Rapeseed, carinata and camelina return to the fields, thanks to management adjustments and the renewed push for biofuels.

By Guillermo Alonso (Los Grobo Agropecuaria Technical Advisor) →

Winter crucifers are oilseeds grown throughout the world; in our country and hand in hand with rapeseed/canola (Brassica napus) they have had an oscillating growth path.

Towards the end of the '90s they threatened to get fully involved as an alternative rotation for the winter, but it was not the time. There were management difficulties, varieties with some sanitary issues and premature dehiscence of siliques, marketing difficulties, to which was added the difficulty of adapting to direct sowing.

This combination of factors conspired so that it was only a glimpse of dissemination, which was limited to certain fields in the province of Buenos Aires, in the center of Santa Fe and Entre Ríos, with national averages that in recent years were around 18.5 quintals. per hectare.

Since then there have been many more attempts, with renewed varieties, winter and spring, and modern spring hybrids. Little by little, the management by environments was adjusted much more; the correlation between cycles and planting dates.

Nutrition began to be given the importance it deserved: not only phosphorus and nitrogen are key, sulfur (an essential nutrient for these crops) must be adjusted very well. Seeders began to be better regulated (locating the seed at the optimal sowing depth, never greater than 2.5 cm), seeking to be more efficient in the achievement coefficients, to obtain the densities chosen and adjusted to each material.

In addition, pests and diseases began to be better controlled, fundamentally Phoma, which "had a picnic" with much of the genetics available up to that time.

To the extent that direct seeding ceased to be "a cuckoo" and the approaches were adjusting the achievement coefficients, nutrition, weed control, and the optimal threshing time, the crop became professionalized, and greater predictability was achieved. .

Likewise, for the fields in the lease circuit, they continue to be crops that are planted against the clock, with a planting window that starts at the end of March with the winter varieties towards the south and central region of the country and extends until mid-June for the shorter and spring varieties and hybrids in the north, when many of the fields have not yet closed their rental contracts.

Rapeseed, on the world podium of oils

Worldwide, rapeseed oil ranks 2nd or 3rd in production volume, only surpassed by soybean oil and sometimes by palm oil. The European Union is the main world producer, with a production that ranges between 8 and 10 million tons. China is the second world producer with 20%, followed by Canada with 14%, and India with about 10%. The United States, Japan and Mexico complete the table of producing countries.

Canada is by far the main leader in the marketing of canola oil, with more than 60% of exports, with a volume that usually exceeds 5 million tons shipped every year, Australia, despite not being one of the largest producers, in recent cycles it was an important player in exports; and, in terms of consumption, Europe leads the use of this oil with more than 10 million tons, followed by China, India and the United States.

Canadian Oil Low Acid, an oilseed par excellence

Rapeseed/canola seed is an oilseed par excellence and can produce more than 45% of premium quality oil, with internationally recognized nutritional qualities. It originates a vegetable oil of high nutritional quality, with an excellent ratio of omega 3 and 6 acids; with less percentage of saturated fatty acids (< 6%).

Although in the past they had some drawbacks due to the high proportion of erucic acid and glucosinolates (toxic for human intake) through genetic improvement with canola hybrids, they were reduced to the minimum concentration (< 1.5%).

Precisely the term Canola (Canadian Oil Low Acid) designates a variety of seeds developed during the 70's by traditional breeding methods. Some countries use the term "double zero rapeseed" (low in erucic acid and glucosinolates) to identify "quality" oil.

A root that goes deep

Cruciferae have a deep and pivoting root system, with a great advantage in terms of extracting water and nutrients from depths greater than 3 meters. In addition, this great "anchorage" allows it to support a very leafy aerial part with a high load of branches, leaves, flowers and siliques. We can almost consider these roots as physical soil looseners, and many times they are chosen as natural aerators and, above all, to improve subsurface porosity, they perfectly fulfill the role of "service crops".

In our country it is practically an oil of unknown use, with a consumer accustomed to cooking preferably with sunflower oil. It is different in many European countries, where the most used and chosen oil is rapeseed, both for seasoning salads and for frying, even above olive oil.

The productivity of rapeseed has had notable increases in our country; This is how, at the level of trials and high production batches, yields that comfortably exceed 32 qq/ha can be obtained.

The carinata and the camelina seek their place in the rotations

On the other hand, the incorporation of the carinata (Brassica carinata) and the camelina (Camelina sativa) as other cruciferous winter oilseeds is advancing, in some agricultural plans that seek to diversify productions and generate a different alternative to the more traditional cereals of winter, mainly wheat and barley.

Gabriel Busson, agricultural production leader at El Hinojo, a company from Entre Ríos that sows some 16,000 hectares of fine grains, has included rapeseed in the rotation for 8 years. Due to the important problem of weeds, it has turned mainly to Clearfield varieties, and other spring cycle hybrids.

He values ​​that he can "diversify the fine with a crop that also has physical benefits for the soil and with which many years we achieve higher gross margins than wheat."

The numbers for this campaign are very attractive." Prices higher than US$650 can be set, with which they would be projecting gross margins greater than US$250, for 1.6 tons/ha and we vacate the lots with 10 to 15 days. in advance, with better yields in second-class soybeans," Busson testified.

Canola enters the best lots and they are fertilized with a lot of sulfur (on average 200 kg/ha, distributed in 2 applications). In addition, having cruciferous plants in the lots allows them to rotate active ingredients for weed control, which in the center and west of Entre Ríos are very difficult to manage, such as ryegrass (Clearfield technology is essential for this), Capiqui and Bowlesia.

For two campaigns they have also incorporated the carinata, with yields of between 800 and 1,000 kg/ha, but with the expectation of raising these averages by more than 25% thanks to the arrival of new hybrids.

"The numbers are very interesting and the good dehiscence behavior allows harvesting with humidity that starts at 11% but usually ends at 6%", says Busson. And he describes that “both canola and carinata stopped using desiccants (glyphosate and paraquat) due to commercial issues and demands of export destinations.

Sebastian Bravo is another specialist on the cruciferous topic. He works as Business Manager for Argentina and Uruguay for Nuseed. He points out that carinata is an oil product with a great advantage, since it does not compete with food, because it goes directly to the production of biofuels and lubricants for the aeronautical industry.

It allows a "great commitment to the reduction of GHG (greenhouse effect gases) since the markets that we attend, mainly European, demand strict standards and certifications (RSB and others) of production". In addition, the by-product of this oil is a meal of very high protein quality, used in cattle feed.

Last season, his company planted 35,000 hectares in Argentina and 6,000 in Uruguay; and they are ready to land in the Brazilian and Paraguayan markets. His goal is to reach one million hectares in the next 10 years throughout America.

"We are very happy because we are launching our first hybrid for this agricultural campaign, with which we hope to exceed the yield of the variety we have been planting by 30%. Our yield floors are around 14 to 15 qq/ha and we have obtained ceilings of yields that exceeded 26 qq/ha, with a sowing window that goes from the end of April to the beginning of June.

They propose "a transparent business. They are listed with 75% of the French Matisse market, with the possibility of fixing until December; this means values ​​that today could be assembled at around US$700." In addition, they reward the producer who sows with sustainability standards or who certifies production, rewarding an additional 5% also for nitrogen management and 15% for the use of feed lot or chicken litter manure. The entire production modality is under contract and the main area of ​​expansion is from the north of Bs.As, to Entre Ríos and Santa Fe.

For Federico Varela, Origination Manager and partner at Chacraservicios SRL (CHS), a company of the Italian group Adamant Bionrg, which markets and develops camelina in Argentina, it is “a crop that is here to stay. Little by little we are gaining followers throughout the country. For this cycle they expect to reach 12,000 hectares (counting so far with 40 producers throughout the country), but we have a projection of reaching 60 thousand hectares in the next 3 years, based on a solid breeding program, with development of new varieties that adapt to different environments or areas of the country and the region.

The reference value for camelina in this campaign will be US$780 per ton and yields can fluctuate between 800 and 1,300 kilos/ha.

Unlike canola and carinata, camelina is a short-cycle rustic crop, with high tolerance to water deficit and frost. It is sown in June and in the central region of the country it is being harvested in the first days of November. The seed is smaller than canola, weighing between 1 and 2 grams for 1,000 seeds. They look for high densities that are at least above 250 plants/m2. The seed is delivered under a closed contract, pelleted and in exchange 2 x 1.

They define it as a profitable service crop. All production is delivered to Pergamino (former Dekalb plant on route 188, where they receive up to 12% humidity).

The main destination of the export will be the production of second-generation biofuels, with careful sustainability standards for the main destination that demands it: Europe. It is also a raw material used for salmon feed.

Franco Rossi, doctor in Molecular Biology from the Conicet and specialist in the health issue of cruciferous plants, commented that "Blackfoot or Phoma (Lepthosphaeria maculans) continues to be the main disease of this group of crops, a necrotrophic disease that persists in the stubble, and very difficult to control once the fungus penetrated the plant.

For this reason, he explains, "all efforts must be made early, with continuous monitoring in the stages prior to the rosette state." He commented that “preventive treatments are being avoided to avoid the appearance of resistance. Among the predisposing conditions, rains and dew stand out, with significant wetting of the plants, accompanied by temperatures that range between 15 and 18 degrees.

The earlier the disease strikes, the more serious the damage. For this reason, the use of genetics with tolerance is essential, as well as rotation and not planting in lots that have been less than 2 to 3 years old with some other cruciferous or important infestation of Nabolzas (weeds "twinned" genetically with rapeseed). . It must be taken into account that infected seed can be the cause of the appearance of the disease in batches without a previous history of cruciferous plants. That is why the use of recommended seed cures is key. Sclerotinia and Mildew are also important diseases.

Scarce but harmful pests if they are not controlled early on are the Cabbage aphid (Brevicorine brassicae) and mainly the Cabbage Isoca (Plutella xylostella), which is very aggressive and can cause serious defoliation from the first larval stages. It is a polyphagous and cosmopolitan isoca, but it also has parasitoid insects that can control it.

The Nabolza, a problematic weed

Undoubtedly, the expansion of Nabolza, a weed that is genetically closely related to rapeseed and the rest of the cruciferous plants, is a problem that is difficult to solve and that began in the southeast of Buenos Aires, but that threatens to continue climbing towards lower latitudes. Fortunately, the movement of machinery, mainly harvesters in the country, is from north to south, but we must continue working on the strict control of these weeds, with chemical management, tillage and rotations. Lots that have a history of Nabolza are automatically not recommended for planting these crops because they reduce yields and affect the final quality of the oil.

They affirm that the "momentum" for takeoff has arrived

Many years have passed since the introduction of the first canolas in the country, small and large obstacles in production and marketing made those who bet at the time lose interest.

Since then we have learned a lot and most of the problems have been overcome. That is why we believe that “the momentum” has finally arrived for the definitive takeoff of these cruciferous crops, which in addition to their own profitability have the added value of being a service crop; all this, moreover, catalyzed by the great boom that biofuels are experiencing worldwide.

It is interesting to take the case of the Uruguayans. Some time ago they put focus on the cruciferous. They studied and set the objective of adapting the management so that it enters into the agricultural rotation and can complement wheat and barley. Last campaign they planted 145 thousand hectares and for this one they hope to reach 200 thousand hectares (20% of the area of ​​fine planted, while in Argentina we did not reach 0.5% of said area).

That is why we say that many times it is worth imitating those who do things well, and here we have a very clear example.

Automatic translation from spanish.

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