By Brandie Piper
As Canada celebrates its 148th birthday on July 1, we want to take a look at the only crop in the world that can be considered truly Canadian – canola! The Canola Council of Canada calls it “Canada’s greatest agricultural success story.”
You probably use canola oil to cook. It’s low in saturated fat, free of trans fat and cholesterol, and a good source of vitamins E and K. The crop provides a versatile oil with a healthy profile for cooking food and a protein meal that is fed to livestock as part of animals’ balanced diet. Farmers are also growing it more sustainably. Let’s learn a little more about this great crop.
Demand for rapeseed dropped in the 1970s, so, using traditional plant breeding, Canadian scientists developed canola, a plant with a better seed that has more nutritional value than rapeseed. Canola seeds contain about 44 percent oil. After the seeds are harvested, they’re crushed, and the oil is separated from the meal, which is used to feed livestock.
The name also reflects canola’s affiliation with Canada, using “can,” a contraction of “Canadian,” and “ola,” meaning “oil.”
Peace River, Alberta
Canola is versatile and can be grown in many regions around the globe. But about half of the world’s canola crop is grown in Canada. The average canola farm in western Canada grows 1,400 acres of the crop.
One area within western Canada grows a lot of canola – and grows it really well. The Peace River Region of Northern Alberta grows more canola than many other regions in the country, as more than half of the region’s acres are canola acres. Most areas within the Peace River Valley (which is the same latitude as southern Alaska) have fewer than 100 frost-free days each year.
Garrett Zahacy, a DEKALB territory manager in the Peace River region, says the region is one of the most ideal places to grown spring canola, because of the long days and dry, cool weather, which makes for the perfect canola growing environment. Zahacy says favorable temperatures and the well-suited soil type also help canola seeds in the region produce up to 4 percent more oil per seed compared to most other regions. The cool weather also assists in keeping the canola flowers from being hurt by the sun. More flowers mean more canola pods, which brings a better harvest.
Growing canola sustainably
Canola’s introduction to Canada gave farmers another crop to grow on their land, which has helped farmers to grow their crops more sustainably by reducing soil erosion and improving soil moisture. Previously, Canadian farmers managed their farms by growing wheat and then letting the land go fallow (which means no crops are growing). With the introduction of canola, farmers could grow a wheat-canola rotation. By having something growing on the land instead of nothing, farmers are helping to manage soil erosion better. A survey of farmers completed in 2009 (Smyth, et al., 2010), reported “the majority of canola grown on the (Canadian) prairies is combined with a zero or minimum tillage method, with 86 percent of growers reporting reduced soil erosion and 83 percent indicating greater soil moisture.”
In addition, the survey also reported 64 percent of canola farmers use no-till or conservation tillage on their farms.
So as you pull a seat up to the table with your friends to celebrate the birth of Canada, take a moment to celebrate canola, and the Canadian innovation behind it.