Canola is the product of several species of the Brassica genus (primarily B. campestris and B. napus). The name is derived from CANadian Oil Low Acid. First commercially cultivated in Canada in the 1970s, canola is rapeseed which has had erucic acid and glucosinolates removed through breeding and selection. Production in the Great Plains is concentrated in the Prairie Provinces. In 1997 Saskatchewan led in both acreage (5.6 million acres) and production (2.7 million tons), closely followed by Alberta (4 million acres and 2 million tons), and more distantly by Manitoba (2.3 million acres and 1.4 million tons). By comparison, relatively small amounts of canola are grown in adjacent areas of North Dakota and Montana, but virtually none is grown farther south in the Great Plains.
Canola plants can be either fall-sown or spring-sown. When seeded in the fall, canola grows until cold weather makes it go dormant. It begins to grow again early in the spring. Fall-sown canola is more productive if it can survive the winter. Breeding work is being done to increase winter survival. The plants bloom in early May with small yellow flowers. The small, dark, shiny seed is similar to the mustard seed.
Canola is raised for the production of oil and protein. The oil is marketed as a "heart healthy" cooking oil because of its favorable fatty acid profile. The meal that remains after extracting the oil is high in protein and is used as an animal feed supplement.
See also INDUSTRY: Oilseeds.
Lenis A. Nelson University of Nebraska-Lincoln