Canola expansion in Brazil

(After Tropical Wheat, Another Invention From Brazil Is Coming That Could Transform Agriculture)

Main points

  • Brazil is dedicated to the development of tropical canola.
  • Canola is the third most produced oilseed in the world.
  • The country should increase production and start exports in 5 years.

There is no lack of reasons for Brazil to invest in canola. Third most produced oilseed in the world, behind only soy and palm oil, canola continues to be in high demand for human consumption, in the form of oil, due to characteristics such as low saturated fat content and the presence of omega 3 and vitamin E. In addition, the oil's stability and high levels of fatty acids facilitate the manufacture of biodiesel, whose market continues to rise.

Biofuel production increased by about 6% last year globally, reaching 9.1 million liters compared to 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. Until 2027, the demand for biodiesel should grow more than 20%.

So far, Brazil has had little participation in world canola production, although cultivation has been increasing. Last year, the country produced 96,200 tons of grain, 75% more than in 2021, according to the National Supply Company (Conab) – 90% of the crop is concentrated in the South.

It is still very little compared to countries like India, which harvested 11 million tons of canola in 2022, and the European Union, champion, with 19.5 million tons, according to the USDA. “Brazil still needs to import canola oil, which is a plant that originates in the northern hemisphere, in temperate climates, but we intend to change this reality”, says Bruno Laviola, deputy head of research and development at Embrapa Agroenergia.

The objective is to develop tropical canola cultivars, adapted to the conditions of the Cerrado (Savana), where almost 180 million tons of grains are produced per year, in the same way as was done with wheat. The research, which began twenty years ago, gained extra steam from 2015, with the advancement of field tests. Genetic improvement, obtained by crossing seeds from countries such as Australia, the United States and Canada, has been producing canola that is more resistant to drought and aluminum, a toxic element present in the soil of the Cerrado (Savana). Tests continue with a view to selecting the best seeds, which should hit the market in two or three years.

In five years, the country should grow 1.4 million tons of canola, making it possible to meet domestic demand and start exporting. The idea is to produce canola in the so-called off-season, between soybean planting, without expanding the area used for agriculture.

Some rural producers have already been investing in canola in the Cerrado,(Savana) using cultivation techniques adapted to local conditions, with the use of straw, to protect the soil, and wider planting spacing.

The work done by Embrapa, first evaluated the international genetic material to identify those most suitable for the Cerrado and from there we made a cross between the plants. Afterwards, we started to select those that are more productive and adapted to the conditions of the Cerrado. Seeds from different countries and places around the world were used, such as Australia, United States, Canada, Europe.

How long will it take for Brazil to produce tropical canola on a large scale?

The farmer has already started growing tropical canola. We accompanied some farmers in the Federal District who started planting canola in 2021 on a commercial basis. We also have information from rural producers in Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Bahia. They are still small areas, to acquire experience. Two or three years from now, we will make a leap in production with the launch of new cultivars.

How long will it take for Brazil to become a major canola producer?

It's hard to say, but in five years Brazil should become self-sufficient and start exporting, producing canola on around 1 million hectares. In the case of wheat, we are going to move from being an importer to an exporter thanks to the same process of tropicalization. Last year, Brazil cultivated around 50 to 60,000 hectares of canola, not including tropical canola. But it is already an advance compared to 2021, in which canola was produced in about 35,000 hectares. About 90% of production is concentrated in the South region. The expectation is to reach 100 ,000 hectares in this harvest. It's still a small area, but it's growing.

What are the challenges of canola tropicalization?

Canola cultivars were developed in the past in countries with temperate and subtropical climates, where the soil is under ice for a few months. It is very different from the climatic conditions and soil of the Cerrado, rich in aluminum, harmful to agriculture, and poor in phosphorus. With the use of technology, we have corrected these issues and transformed the Cerrado over the last few decades, but challenges remain. About canola, it is important that it is more tolerant to aluminum. There is also the issue of dry weather. In this sense, we are deepening the root system of the plant so that it becomes more resistant to drought. But there is also aluminum in the deeper layers of the soil.

Fig below - Brazilian canola production in tons