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Agriculture This Week: Food or fuel becoming a debate

Where should crop production end up?
canola crop
Is biofuel the best market for the oil from canola?

YORKTON - A recent announcement in the U.S. should have canola producers cautiously optimistic that a massive new market might open for their production. 

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency published a proposed rule on April 12 that paves the way for canola oil to be used to make renewable diesel, jet fuel and other products,” noted a recent article 

“The EPA determined that canola oil meets the greenhouse gas emission reduction threshold of 50 percent required to qualify for advanced biofuel renewable identification numbers under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard.” 

While currently open for feedback, if the rules moves forward it could be huge for the industry. 

The Canola Council of Canada estimates “five to eight percent of Canada’s annual canola production or about 1.8 million tonnes of seed are currently consumed by the North American biofuel sector,” according to the article. 

And, if the EPA’s final ruling is positive CCC president Jim Everson said, “very preliminary information would say that it could be as high as six to 6.5 (million tonnes) by 2030,” said Everson. 

Certainly on the marketing side for producers this is big news, and has to be seen as nothing put positive. 

The biofuels industry in this case would be North American domestic in nature meaning production plants and jobs for the canola sector which is already providing jobs all over the Canadian Prairies thanks to a growing crush sector. 

On the fuels side it should be a good thing too. 

There are good reasons to move to cleaner burning fuels in terms of protecting the environment and the atmosphere. While some will argue the answer lies away from the internal combustion engine, we remain some time in terms of development of alternatives when it comes to jets and huge ocean ships and even farm tractors and semis hauling our goods. 

But, the development of a vastly larger market for canola oil as fuel will mean the food production of a lot of farmland acres is lost too. 

In the case of canola, it is the oil we consume, the leftover meal still almost exclusively a by-product of crushing that goes to livestock feed. One day science will likely find a way to make the high protein canola meal palatable and useable for human food, but so far that is not the case. 

It might be suggested the impact of the EPA decision won’t be hugely impactful in terms of acres moving to produce fuel, not food, but of course the U.S. is only one country in a world where most are looking for biofuel options. 

And, let’s not forget the world food market is also a volatile one. Droughts and frosts and wars happen all too often impacting food production, while populations inch higher. 

This potential new canola market might not hurt food production, but the question needs to be asked how much non-human food production becomes more than the system can absorb and people go hungry as grains and oilseeds flow to alternative markets.


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