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KFC spells a big boost for Australian canola growers

Date

John Thistleton

Farmer Tom Corkhill at Maneroo property near Boorowa after being contracted to sow the fields with Canola Seeds.

Farmer Tom Corkhill at Maneroo property near Boorowa after being contracted to sow the fields with Canola Seeds. Photo: Jay Cronan

Fifth-generation Boorowa farmer and agronomist Tom Corkhill is wary of getting ahead of himself, despite predictions of a tremendous canola harvest.

If rising global prices, record planting and deep subsoil moisture weren't enough to boost expectations for this year's crop, KFC has announced it will change from Malaysian-sourced palm oil to Australian canola oil to fry its chicken, tipping tens of millions of dollars into the oil seed market.

''We don't want extremes, just a good consistent return, especially when wheat is not looking so good,'' Mr Corkhill said.

Farmer Tom Corkhill at Maneroo property near Boorowa after being contracted to sow the fields with Canola Seeds.

Farmer Tom Corkhill at Maneroo property near Boorowa after being contracted to sow the fields with Canola Seeds. Photo: Jay Cronan

The Corkhills' crop last year sold for about $520 a tonne to Cargill, one of three suppliers contracted to fill KFC's order.

Mr Corkhill and his brother Ashley run a border Leicester stud, merino sheep and cattle south of Boorowa, as well as cropping.

This season they're growing 350 hectares of canola and 500 hectares of wheat at their property, Normanhurst, and sowing 320 hectares of canola east of Boorowa.

Relations of Canberra's landscaping Corkhill brothers, Tom and Ashley will run their near new tractor, worth about $200,000, around the clock, hauling a $180,000 air seeder to make sure it earns its keep during the sowing season.

Fifty kilometres north of Yass, Boorowa's safe growing conditions become blindingly apparent in September and October when yellow canola flowers blanket the countryside.

''We generally have a softer finish in late spring and early summer and fare all right,'' Tom Corkhill said.

Canola growers received too much rain last year, but still managed to average 1.8 tonne to the hectare and escape with a reasonable return for the harvest.

''We all got a bit panicky from the year before, but we found good crops will handle a bit of rain, once they're in the windrows,'' Mr Corkhill said.

''In the end, it could have been a lot worse and wasn't too bad, considering.''

Canola's tap root breaks through hard soil and dies off at harvest time, setting up a good soil profile for wheat the following season.

Mr Corkhill said growers were putting in more canola because prices could exceed $600 a tonne. Some were not rotating their crop with wheat this season, which increased the risk of diseases.

The brothers will spend about $400 a hectare on fertiliser and chemicals and $50 a hectare on seed.

They hope to make about $1000 a hectare.

Genetically modified canola trials have not delivered the yield and oil content to match the varieties the Corkhills have been growing. They're trialling Clearfield, a new, vigorous, high-yielding variety.

A mix of phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur followed by seed coated in a purple chemical are forced into the freshly ploughed earth by air pressure before a long prickle chain sweeps over the ground behind them in preparation for a golden crop.

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