DESPITE lying more than 300 kilometres from the sea the Riverina Oils and Bio Energy facility (ROBE) at Wagga Wagga has emerged as one of Australia’s largest exporters of refined canola oil.
The facility, which opened in 2013, is capable of producing around 80,000 tonnes of oil per year and export opportunities continue to grow.
“Various high value, health conscious markets are emerging,” said ROBE trading manager Lachie Herbert during a recent tour of the facility by attendees of the Innovation Generation conference held this week in Wagga.
“The non genetically modified (GM) market is a lot larger than we had first thought and that is a key reason this facility remains GM-free, while more and more customers are also looking for oil that comes from the primary extraction,” Mr Herbert said.
He said markets were opening up in areas such as California in the US.
“In some ways it is odd given the amount of soybean oil produced in the US but you’ve got a high value, health conscious market in California and they are looking for a specific product with specific traits.”
Mr Herbert said entry into high value markets could earn around 20 per cent more than the commodity market, but added that was offset by the cost of getting the product to the US which added much the same margin in costs as the extra price.
The ROBE facility currently processes around 200,000 tonnes of canola from the local area, with plans for further increases.
“In good years we source product from a 100 kilometre radius, in a bad year that will stretch out to 200km,” Mr Herbert said.
Canola oil percentages are generally around 40-45pc, with the meal by-product a sought after stock feed.
“Once the oil is extracted the meal is very high in protein, around 36pc so there is a good market for that also,” Mr Herbert said.
Process engineer at ROBE Vipin Kumar said the canola was first cleaned of impurities such as straw and stones before it was milled into flakes.
From there the canola had its first extraction, which garners around 70pc of the total oil, through a crushing process.
The meal that remains is then put through for secondary extraction, where it is treated with hexane and then steamed.
This method means 99pc of all oil is extracted, with the remaining meal then ready for sale to the stock feed industry.
Mr Kumar said there was a strict compliance and quality assurance program at the plant so it could assure customers of the provenance of its product.
“There are a range of ongoing quality tests that are conducted,” he said.
Mr Herbert said along with domestic customers, who can buy oil in tankers, the plant also loaded food-grade bladders of oil weighing 22 tonnes into shipping containers for export.
There is storage onsite, with a bunker capable of holding 12,000 tonnes, while ROBE also sources canola out of the bulk handling system, from farmers at harvest and from farmers out of their on-farm storage.