Canola Profile

Revised October, 2021.


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

It is the same species and subspecies as rapeseed, with a major difference.  The distinguishing difference between the two types of Brassica napus is their individual chemical or fatty acid profiles. Rapseeed oil is excellent for industrial uses, but has an unpleasant flavor, in part, because it has a high content (at least 45 percent) of erucic acid in the oil. 

Canadian plant breeders , using classical plant breeding techniques,  selected cultivars with very different levels of antipalatability compounds in the oil. The name ‘Canola’ (abbreviated for Canadian oil, low acid) was registered in 1979 in Canada and refers to the edible oil crop that is characterized by low erucic acid (less than 2 percent) and low levels of glucosinolates. Canola oil has a very mild flavor and canola is now the dominant variation of the species and subspecies grown widely in Canada and the U.S. Visually, the seeds of the two Brassica napus, subspecies, napus types appear identical. 

This profile will focus on canola, grown for human consumption. 


There are both spring and winter annual canola types. Spring planted canola is grown in most of Canada and the northern states in the U.S. Winter annual canola is grown in Oklahoma and other southern states. 

Canola is primarily grown for its edible oil, and contains 35 to 45 percent oil in the seed. Canola oilseed meal, the byproduct of oil extraction, contains 36% protein and 3.5% fat when solvent extraction is used. When canola oil is cold pressed, as for organic markets, the remaining meal contains 12-18% fat. Both are excellent protein sources for livestock rations and cold pressed canola meal is also a good energy source. 

Canola flowers are capable of both self-  and cross-pollination. The majority of the flowers are self pollinated, but up to 30% may be cross pollinated. The level of cross pollination depends on the availability of insect pollinators, cultivar and weather. Most commercially grown canola is now genetically engineered (GE). There is a growing market for organic canola, which must be non GE cultivars. Due to the level of cross-pollination of the species, organic canola must be grown in isolation from conventional canola cultivars. 

Steps for processing canola oil and meal are available from the Canola Council of Canada. 


In 2021, 2.1 million acres of canola were harvested in the U. S. Yields for 2021 was 2.3 billion lbs total or 1,119 lbs/A. This level of U.S. production has fallen from yields in past years. 

Most canola production in the United States takes place in the northwestern states adjacent to Canada According to the 2020 UDSA AG Census, North Dakota was the leading canola-producing state, with 2.92 billion lbs. This was the second largest production for North Dakota behind the 2018 production. North Dakota was then followed by Montana with 241 million lbs. and Washington with 200 million lbs. 

Worldwide production of canola is usually grouped with rapeseed production. Canada produces 20 percent of the world’s canola/rapeseed and is by far the largest exporter, accounting for 74 percent of export trade. Canada produces GE, spring canola while winter canola predominates other geographic areas where canola is grown including the E.U. and China. 

On-Farm Biodiesel Production 

On-farm biodiesel production is possible from canola or rapeseed. Economists at the University of Tennessee found that biodiesel production from canola was financially feasible whereas production from rapeseed was not, due to a lack of market for the byproduct seed meal. Oregon State University researchers, however documented financial losses to produce biodiesel from either canola or rapeseed. 


Management canola is similar to that for winter small grains. Canola 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. Equipment needed include a tractor, drill or broadcast seeder, sprayer, windrower, combine harvester with pick up head and wagons for transportation, similar to the needs for other small-seeded grain or oil-seed crops. Spraying for weed management may be done on farm or by commercial applicators. 

Fertilizer needs vary based on yield potential of a production site, including both soil and rainfall potential. Nitrogen requirements range from 100 to 150 lbs/A. Phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O,) fertility needs vary with soil test levels.  P2O5 recommended rates range from 0 to 80 lbs/A. K2O recommended rates range from 0 to 140 lb/A. Sulfur is also important for profitable canola production  Recommended sulfur fertilizer rates range from 10 to 30 lbs/A. 

Harvesting Rapeseed 

Seed shattering at harvest is a typical problem, so canola is commonly swathed when seed moisture is about 35%. The Canola Council of Canada also provide excellent guidelines for harvest management. 


Cost of production for canola vary somewhat based on the area in which it is produced. 

Production budgets for canola are available online for North DakotaPennsylvaniaMaine, and Georgia.  



Budget templates are in Canadian currency.