Agriculture, Growing and Processing Canola
Q. What is canola?
A. Canola's history goes back to the rapeseed plant, but canola and rapeseed are not the same. In the 1970's, Canadian plant breeders produced canola through traditional plant breeding techniques. "Canola" refers worldwide to varieties with two percent or less erucic acid in the oil and 30 micromoles per gram or less of glucosinolates in the meal.
Q. What does canola look like?
A. Each canola plant grows anywhere from 3-6 feet (1-2 meters) tall and produces groups of yellow flowers which in turn, produce seed pods about five centimeters (2 inches) long. Each pod turns brown as it ripens and contains twenty or more tiny round black or brownish-yellow seeds. Each seed contains approximately 45 percent oil and so canola is classified as an oilseed.
Canola is a cool-season crop and grows particularly well on the prairies where cool night temperatures allow it to recover from hot days and limited amounts of rainfall.
Q. How is canola produced?
A. There are two main types of canola grown, the short growing season Polish type (Brassica rapa, a brown/yellow seed) and the longer season Argentine type (Brassica napus, a black seed). Fields are cultivated, seeded, fertilized, and herbicides/pesticides may be applied as needed to control insects, weeds and diseases.
Seedlings emerge four to ten days after planting. From a taproot, bottom leaves form a rosette, which send up a flower stalk as the plant grows. The flowering stage lasts 14 to 21 days and prairie fields at this time are a sea of brilliant yellow flowers. Bees, visiting the flowers for nectar, help pollinate the flowers. Once the flowers are fertilized, pods take 35 to 45 days to fill. The field is swathed when about one half of the seed pods have turned color from green to yellow or brown. The swathed crop dries for approximately ten days and then is combined.
Q. How many seeds are in each pod?
A. Argentine: 25 to 35 seeds per pod, with 80 to 100 pods per plant. Polish: 15 to 25 seeds per pod, with 60 to 80 pods per plant. Low sulfur levels reduce the number of flowers resulting in lower seed production.
Q. What challenges does canola present to the farmer?
A. Canola seed is very fine (about the size of a radish or turnip seed) and it must be planted shallow in a moist seed bed so the seed can germinate. Seed treatment is used to reduce seedling disease and early flea beetle attacks. Herbicides are used to control weed growth. All chemicals used are registered with the federal government and assessed by the provincial government regarding application. The registration process is rigorous, takes years of approval and involves Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as the chemical company. Plant breeders continue to work to produce varieties, which have resistance to major diseases.
Q. Where does canola go when it leaves the farm?
A. Approximately 45 percent of canola production is trucked to the nearest processor where it is crushed for oil. Plants are located across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Seed delivered to a processing plant is graded according to a strict grading standard established and maintained by the Canadian Grain Commission. Payment to the farmer is based on grade; Canada No. 1 Canola to a sample grade. Graded seed is then cleaned to remove plant stalks, grain seeds and other materials. Processing canola involves heating and crushing the seeds to release the oil. Once the oil is extracted, it is mixed and processed according to end product requirements. Different treatments are used to process salad oils, margarines and shortenings. The leftover meal is processed into pellets or mash. The United States is our largest importer of canola oil and meal. Approximately 50 percent of Canada's canola seed is directly exported to Japan, China and Mexico for processing by local crushers. In addition to being exported to the US, canola meal is exported to Vietnam, Thailand and Mexico.
Q. How is canola oil extracted?
A. The first stage in processing canola is to roll or flake the seed. This ruptures cells and makes the oil easier to extract. Next the flaked or rolled seeds are cooked and subjected to a mild pressing process which removes some of the oil and compresses the seeds into large chunks called "cake fragments". The oil collected through this mechanical stage is marketed as expeller or first press oil. The oil extracted during each step is combined. The oil may then be subjected to further processing according to end product use. Different treatments are used to process salad oils, margarine and shortenings.
Q. What is cold pressed oil?
A. Cold-pressing is a traditional method in which the seeds are not heated before, during, or after the pressing process. Seeds are selected, cleaned, and crushed; they are then mechanically pressed at a slow pace to limit friction and avoid elevating temperatures above 60°C. Its color, taste, and odor are much more pronounced than those of refined oils.
The price of cold pressed oil tends to be slightly higher because of the lower amount of oil that is obtained from the seed.
Q. Who uses canola oil and canola products?
A. Canola oil is recognized for its nutritional qualities. It contains the lowest level of saturated fat of the common cooking oils, is high in monounsaturated fat and contains essential polyunsaturated fats. Besides being used in cooking oil and sprays, salad dressings, and margarines, canola oil is also used in many foods produced by the food and restaurant industries.. Canola oil is also utilized in inedible products such as biodiesel, cosmetics, printing inks, suntan oils, oiled fabrics, plasticizers, plastic wraps, pesticides and industrial lubricants. Canola meal is used as fertilizer and as high protein feed for livestock, poultry and pets.