The former Organic Oilseed Rape RISS group successfully harvested 35 tonnes of organic rapeseed in 2021, following farm trials in north-east Scotland.
They have now formed a producer group of 20 members, working with feed processors Norvite, and launched an organic rapeseed oil in 2021, which was the first of its kind in Scotland and the UK.
Technical director at Norvite, David McClelland, and farmer Murray Cooper, of Mains of Thornton farm near Inverurie, presented on the group’s progress at the Rural Innovation Support Service online event The Innovation Game on March 15, 2021.
McClelland said Norvite had begun talking to farmers about the possibility of growing organic oilseed rape commercially in the UK in 2015, having been shocked that Britain currently imports 6000 tonnes of organic soya protein to feed animals in the UK.
Cooper agreed that this figure did not sit well with organic farmers, but that oilseed rape was notoriously difficult to grow. “A lot of organic farmers are afraid to grow it because of the risk of volunteers and their effect on other crops, and if we did grow it would we have anywhere to process it?”
He and other farmers in the region were invited to join the RISS group in 2018, to work with Norvite and share the risks and knowledge around growing. “It was particularly important to have a facilitator to give us direction,” said Cooper. “Us farmers tend to be busy and to forget details! It really helped to keep us going.”
The RISS group went on a study trip to Sweden in 2019, where farmers grow 10,000 hectares of organic oilseed rape annually. “We were amazed at how well their crops looked,” said Cooper. He subsequently bought a machine he saw in Sweden that sows and interrow weeds the crop.
In early 2020 the group received Scottish Government Knowledge Transfer and Innovation funding to carry out trials on five farms with an agronomist and SRUC researcher Dr Robin Walker: the ScoCan project.
“Those farmers successfully harvested 35 tonnes of seed,” continued McClelland. “They wanted to keep on working together so we formed a producer group, with the help of facilitator Jim Booth, of SAOS [who facilitated the initial RISS group]. This dynamic group now has 20 members, quadrupling the acreage.
“The growers have achieved two to three times the conventional price for oilseed rape. And the market value will be appreciated when we crush the seed and launch an organic oil, which will be the first of its kind in Scotland and the UK.”