By Margaret Smith, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Updated September 2017
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 2017, 2.2 million acres of canola were planted in the U. S. Yields for 2016 were 3.1 billion lbs total or 1,824 lbs/A. This level of U.S. production has risen fairly modestly, but consistently, since 2011.
Most canola production in the United States takes place in the northwestern states adjacent to Canada According ot the 2012 UDSA AG Census, North Dakota produced 83 percent of the U.S. crop followed by Oklahoma with six percent; Idaho, with three percent; Montana and Minnesota, with 2 percent, each: Kansas, with 1 percent of total U.S. production.
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.
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 Dakota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maine, and Georgia.
- Brassica Breeding and Research Group, University of Idaho.
- Rapeseed and Canola for Biodiesel Production
- Canola Council of Canada
- Crop Production Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
- Crop Value Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
- Great Plains Canola Production Handbook
- Canola----Field Crops: 2012 and 2007, 2012 Census of Agriculture - State Data, NASS, US.
- Rapeseed and Products: World Supply and Distribution, Foreign Ag Service, USDA.
- Canola or Rapeseed Production in Pennsylvania.
- Canola Production Field Guide ( North Dakota)
- Swathing and Harvesting Canola (North Dakota)
- Winter Canola Production in Kansas. 2013.
- Canola, National Statistics, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
- Canola Council of Canada - A trade association representing producers, input suppliers, processors and marketers of canola and its products.
- Canola Facts, Soyatech.
- Canola Futures News Headlines, Futures and Commodity Market News, Resource News International via COMTEX.
- Oil Crops Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
- Oil Crops Yearbook, ERS, USDA, 2011.
- Northern Canola Growers Association
- U.S. Grains Council
- As biofuel becomes popular, is canola a feasible winter crop? David Bennett, Farm Press, 2006.
- Canola, North Dakota State University.
- Canola, Oklahoma State University.
- Canola, Oregon State University Extension Service, 2008.
- Canola, Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, Columbia, Missouri - This online article provides a production guide and a cost-return crop budget for spring canola and for winter canola. Contact information for some canola seed dealers is also provided at the website.
- Canola, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, updated 2005.
- Crop Production Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
- Crop Values Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
- Crop Profile for Canola in Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2005.
- Great Plains Canola, Oklahoma State University, Kansas State University and University of Nebraska, 2012 - Canola is a special type of edible rapeseed genetically low in erucic acid and glucosinolates. The seeds are a source of healthy cooking oil and high-protein meal for livestock. This publication discusses aspects of canola production.
- Spring Canola Variety Performance in Iowa Final Report, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, 2007 - The renewed interest in growing canola in Iowa and the need to test current genetics led to the planting of 18 spring canola lines from six sources on two planting dates at two sites.
- Canola ERS.USDA
- 2015 Field Crop Budgets Publicaiton 60, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario, Canada.
- Winter Canola Hybrid and Spring Canola---Herbicide Tolerant Budget Worksheets
Budget templates are in Canadian currency.
Links checked July 2018.