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By Michael Boland, University of Minnesota.

Reviewed March 2012.


Rapeseed, a large winter or spring annual oil crop in the Brassica family, is related to mustard, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and turnip. Rapeseed plants grow from three to five feet tall and have yellow flowers with four petals. Rapeseed has a deep taproot and a fibrous, near-surface root system.

Rapeseed is primarily grown for its oil and meal. In some areas, rapeseed, which contains more than 40 percent oil, becomes more profitable than soybeans, which have 18 percent oil. This oilseed is also beneficial as a cover crop. It provides good soil cover over winter to prevent soil erosion, produces large amounts of biomass, suppresses weeds and can improve soil tilth with its root system. Winter rapeseed can also be grazed by livestock during the fall growth period.

There is often confusion between the use of the terms “rapeseed” and “canola.” Rapeseed is the traditional name for the group of oilseed crops in the Brassicaceae family. It can be divided into two types — industrial rapeseed or canola. Visually, the seeds of the two types are identical. The distinguishing difference between the two types is their individual chemical or fatty acid profiles. Generally, “industrial rapeseed” refers to any rapeseed with a high content (at least 45 percent) of erucic acid in the oil. Canola refers to the edible oil crop that is characterized by low erucic acid (less than 2 percent). This profile will focus on industrial rapeseed.

Value-added Products

Traditionally, industrial rapeseed is produced for birdseed and oil for industrial purposes. Industrial varieties of rapeseed are used for non-edible purposes such as lubricants, hydraulic fluids and plastics. High-erucic-acid rapeseed (HEAR) oil is especially useful where high heat stability is required. One of the primary markets for HEAR oils is erucamide. Erucamide has been used for decades by plastic film manufacturers for use in bread wrappers and garbage bags and is preferred over cheaper alternatives for its production properties.


Total rapeseed production has steadily increased since the 2007 Census of Agriculture. In the United States, the harvested acreage of rapeseed increased from 200,000 acres in 2008 to 1,300,000 acres in 2011. The crop totaled more than 2.8 million pounds in 2011, down 32 percent from 2010, with a value of $763,000. Prices in 2011 averaged $27 per hundredweight (cwt). The average yield was 2,177 pounds per acre, up 286 pounds from 2010, and the highest yield since records began in 1991. 

According to the 2007 Census, 11 farms harvested rapeseed in 2007; nine of those farms were located in Idaho, one was located in Oregon and one in Washington.

Rapeseed grows well on a wide variety of well-drained soils, prefers a pH between 5.5 and 8.3 and is moderately tolerant of saline soils. Rapeseed has been grown in the Pacific Northwest for more than 40 years. It was also produced in the South during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Worldwide production of rapeseed was 61 million metric tons (MT) in 2011. China was the top rapeseed producing country, producing 14.7 million MT, and India was second, producing about 7.3 million MT. The 27 countries of the European Union (EU) accounted for 23 million MT. In those countries, rapeseed oil has become the primary feedstock for biodiesel, with Germany and France being the top producers. Experts predict that the area planted to rapeseed and the crushing capacity will both increase sharply in the EU countries.


The industry for industrial rapeseed is fairly mature. However, with increased emphasis on renewable resources and biodegradability, there is a possibility of an increased interest in raw materials such as high erucic oil. It is recommended that rapeseed for the industrial oil market be grown under contract.

In western Canada, biodiesel plants are being built that will use rapeseed oil as a feedstock.

Other Links

Links checked August 2014.


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