Standing at the Southwest Purdue Ag center near Vincennes, Chuck Mansfield pointed to two lush, green plots growing last week. It wasn't wheat, because the leaves were a broadleaf crop, not a grass. "It's canola," he says. "Some of us still believe that there is a great future here for this crop. It's being overlooked."
Understanding why it's overlooked isn't lost on Mansfield. A seed entrepreneur oversold the concept of growing canola in Indiana, even southern Indiana, in the mid-1980s. His goal was selling seed, not worrying about harvest issues or what to do with the crop once it was grown and harvested.
"The biggest problem from what I've been told is the varieties that he sold in this area weren't adapted here," Mansfield explains. :"Winterkill became a big issue. Coupled with having to make combines more small seed proof and finding markets, farmers who started to get inot it got out quickly."
But not before many got a bad taste in their mouth. "The mention of canola causes some people to turn up their nose," Mansfield admits. "But with the right variety and good production techniques, I believe there is potential for it on our kind of soils."
Reportedly, one grower in southern Indiana grew 300 acres very successfully, and sold it at a good profit this past year. Understanding the crop, knowing when to seed it and how thick to seed it are all key points, Mansfield says. He works with Shaun Casteel, a Purdue University specialist, on plots related to canola. Mansfield is a Purdue Extension agronomist based in Vincennes. He is also an instructor for ag classes at Vincennes University.
Dow AgroSciences has purchased the output of thousands of acres of canola over the past few years to produce healthy, high quality cooking oil. So farm, they've elected to promote and develop canola oil rather than try to have farmers grow soybeans with special traits that make them more attractive for healthy oil markets. Most of the canola that Do AgroSciences works with at the moment is grown in Canada.
Just because you had a bad experience or heard dad or grandpa talk about a bad experience with canola some 20 to 25 years ago, Mansfield doesn't believe you should rule it our of your future crop mix. Time will tell, but he insists there could be a future for this crop in this part of the country.