Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Great Plains is a principal production region for several crops grown for the oil contained in the seed. Changes in U.S. farm legislation and world market conditions may make it possible for oilseeds to become an even more prominent component of the repertoire of crops grown in the Great Plains in the future. Crushing facilities for extracting oil from seeds have been built in the Great Plains, while facilities outside the region convert or incorporate the seed oil into finished products.

Canola (Brassica campestris and B. napus) is the most widely grown oilseed crop in the Great Plains region of Canada and has increased in popularity among northern U.S. growers. For example, production in North Dakota increased from 18,000 acres in 1991 to more than 400,000 acres in 1997. Canola acreage will expand in the near future, specifically on the Northern Plains and in the Prairie Provinces. Canola oil contains less saturated fat than many other vegetable oils. As a result, consumption of canola oil in the United States has risen dramatically since it was first granted gras (generally recognized as safe) status for human food use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1985. Plant geneticists have altered the fatty acid composition of the seed oil, thus increasing the number of varieties available to growers and oil types available to end users.

Crambe (Crambe abyssinica) is grown on around 40,000 acres annually in the Great Plains, all of which are located in North Dakota. Rapeseed (Brassica campestris and B. napus) is grown on approximately 100,000 acres each year in Canada. The seed oil of both crambe and rapeseed contains erucic acid. This fatty acid is used in the manufacture of slip agents, plasticizers, lubricants, and corrosion inhibitors. Neither rapeseed nor crambe produce seed oil that is suitable for human consumption. Currently, world demand for crambe and rapeseed oil is stable.

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is grown on approximately two million acres in Canada each year. An additional 100,000 to 150,000 acres are produced in the United States, with about 80 percent occurring in North Dakota. Linseed oil (obtained from flax) is used in the manufacture of paints and varnishes. Interest in flax within the health food industry has evolved as the benefits of incorporating flax into the human diet have been identified. The development of flax oil as an edible vegetable oil also has contributed to a renewed interest in flax production.

Mustard (Brassica juncea and B. hirta) is grown in northern portions of the Great Plains region, primarily in Canada. Production in the United States is mostly limited to North Dakota and Montana, where between 12,000 and 60,000 acres were grown annually between 1991 and 1997. Most mustard is used in the processed meats industry and as a flavoring agent in sauces and condiments. Market demand for mustard presently is stable, with little change anticipated in the near future.

SaÄower (Carthamus tinctorius) is grown in dry, northern portions of the Great Plains. The area under saÄower ranged from 20,000 to 85,000 acres between 1991 and 1997. Most saÄower is grown for the vegetable oil market. Worldwide, Japan is the principal importer. Enhanced promotion of traditional safflower oil, which contains a relatively high level of polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to many other vegetable oils, could increase market demand for saÄower oil. High-oleic safflower also is being grown.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) was grown on almost 3.5 million acres of the Great Plains in 1997, primarily in North and South Dakota. Sunflower acreage is expanding, particularly in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Most of the sunflower is grown for the vegetable oil market. About 20 percent of the sunflower crop is a nonoil type that is eaten as a snack food or sold in the bird food market. Traditional sunflower oil is high in linoleic acid. It is used as a cooking oil, in salad oil, and in the manufacture of margarine. High-oleic sunflower has been developed as a high-value, premium cooking oil. The NuSun sunflower produces an oil with moderate levels of oleic acid and low levels of saturated fats.

See also AGRICULTURE: Canola; Flax; Sunflowers.

Patrick M. Carr North Dakota State University

Carter, Jack F. "Potential of Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil in Baked Goods and Other Products in Human Nutrition." Cereal Foods World 38 (1993): 753–59.

Van Dyne, Donald L., Melvin G. Blase, and Kenneth D. Carlson. Industrial Feedstocks and Products from High Erucic Acid Oil: Crambe and Industrial Rapeseed. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990.

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