Canola fever hit Indiana in the late '80's and early '90s, then disappeared almost as fast as it came. It's too early to say interest in canola is heating up again. But it is fact that Chuck Mansfield has canola varieties in comparison trials in his research plots at the Southwest Purdue Ag Center located near Vincennes.
Mansfield is testing the varieties on behalf of a company interested in making alternative fuel from canola seed. The company is located in the western U.S. According to the canola breeder who helped select varieties for Mansfield to try, canola can reportedly kick out more oil than soybeans. However, the by-product left behind does not apparently make good feed without additional tweaking, vs. products left behind after processing soybeans into oil that feeds soy biodiesel production plants.
Mansfield recalls what happened when farmers in Indiana and the lower Midwest were first introduced to canola nearly two decades ago. The push came from a seedsman, and spread to other seed- producing companies. One entrepreneur pushed farmers to grow it to sell his seed. Marketing it wasn't as well thought out as how to get farmers to grow it.
"Farmers were left with impressions such as it would yield as much or more than wheat, come off earlier than wheat to make it a good doublecrop choice, and several other things that seemed to make it an attractive choice as a crop," Mansfield says. "Unfortunately, most of those claims turned out to be false. You can doublecrop behind it, but it doesn't come off earlier than wheat. In fact, it came off later."
Other 'minor' details farmers learned the hard way included needing to cover every crack in grain augers with duct tape, and also making trucks or other transport vehicles leakproof to the tiny seed.
One of the biggest downfalls, Mansfield recalls, in that initial trial period was that many varieties planted here didn't survive the winter very well. Depending upon the season, winterkill could be quite extensive. Farmers also weren't given good guidance on when to plant it, so many times it went in too late.
Canola is grown successfully in Canada. However, they grow spring canola primarily there, Mansfield notes. The canola farmers were asked to grow here was fall-planted canola. That's the type Mansfield is evaluating now.
Dow AgroSciences is in the process of developing a large market for canola oil in the food industry. It competes against low linolinic soybean oil as a healthy oil for cooking purposes. So far, the majority of acres used to grow canola for the Dow product have been in Canada.