Writer: Paul Schattenberg, (210) 467-6575,email@example.com
Contact: Dr. Charles Stichler, (830) 278-9151,firstname.lastname@example.org
UVALDE – Each year, Central and South Texas host a number of temporary “Winter Texan” visitors from Canada. But now agricultural researchers are trying to find out whether another type of Canadian winter visitor – canola – might become a permanent resident of the state.
“The price of wheat has been constant for decades, and farmers are looking for alternative winter crops to increase their profitability.” said Charles Stichler, Texas Cooperative Extension agronomist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. “We’re always testing and experimenting with existing and alternative crops to meet producers’ needs. It looks like canola has really good potential as winter crop alternative to wheat.”
While the price of wheat has remained stable for some time, inflation and increasing production costs have significantly reduced or eliminated economic returns for many Texas farmers, Stichler said.
“Farmers want to improve their bottom line and have more crop choices to help them adapt to changing economic and agricultural conditions,” he said. “Canola might fit the bill.”
Canola oil would be the primary application for this crop, he said, but it also “has a number of additional uses for both humans and animals.
“Canola can be used in a variety of edible and inedible products for humans, as well as made into meal to feed livestock,” Stichler said. “It’s also used in the production of biodiesel fuel.”
Along with oil, canola is used in making salad oils, sandwich spreads, coffee creamers and other edible products. Canola meal is processed into pellets and mash to make feed for pigs, cattle and poultry. It is also used in pesticides, lubricants, printing inks, cosmetics and other non-edible products.
Currently, Canada is the world’s largest producer of the crop, which contributes more than $6 billion annually to its economy, according to the Canola Council of Canada.
Canola was developed in Canada in the 1970s breeding out unhealthy components of rapeseed to produce a product suitable for consumption. Its oil has a different composition than rapeseed and meets stringent standards to fit the industry definition of canola. Only then can it be sold under that trademarked name. “Canola oil has one of the lowest levels of saturated fat among cooking oils and no trans fats,” said Dr. Sharon Robinson, Extension nutrition specialist. “It is rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids – nutrients needed to help maintain health. In fact, canola has more vitamin E than peanut, corn or olive oil.”
Canola is popular for both domestic and commercial cooking because of its light taste and positive nutritional aspects, she said.
And because canola can be grown in Texas in the winter, it has an additional “strategic” advantage over other cold-intolerant crops, such as soybeans, when it comes to biodiesel fuel production, Stichler said.
“It grows at a time when other crops can’t,” he said. “Canola is a summer crop in Canada, but the fact that it’s tolerant to cold weather makes it suited for most Central and South Texas winters. It’s kind of a ‘misfit’ crop here, but one that’s proving to be a viable crop for the area during winter.”
The flowering blooms of the canola plants also draw honeybees and are useful in honey production and crop pollination during the winter, he added.
In South and Central Texas, test plots of canola have been planted at the Uvalde center and Extension test plots in San Patricio County. Additional experimentation with the crop is also under way at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Corpus Christi.
The Uvalde center has completed one year of trials and the Experiment Station in San Patricio has completed four.
Five acres of canola were planted in test plots at the Uvalde center. Three varieties of canola were tested, along with different irrigation rates to help identify maximum crop quality and yield. “This first year was very promising,”Stichler said. “It looks like we can expect a yield of about 1,800 pounds per acre for the crop. We’re also seeing that canola uses about the same amount of water or less than wheat during the winter months.”
Last year, Extension in San Patricio County worked with local farmers to plant about 100 acres. Seven varieties were tested under different irrigated conditions. This year, 14 varieties of canola were planted on about 40 irrigated acres and about 160 “dryland” acres.
A late freeze this year damaged some of the maturing canola, making the seeds non-viable at harvest, said Jeff Stapper, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for San Patricio County.
“We’ve been working with (international food provider) Cargill to produce canola because growers in the Dakotas are currently unable to meet the demand,” Stapper said. Last year’s canola crop was our most successful to date. We got about 1,900 pounds per acre from the irrigated test plots.”
The closest canola-crushing plant to San Patricio County is in Mexico, Stapper said, but for the past few years producers have shipped their product to Colorado for processing.
“There are no crushing plants for the crop in this state, so currently there’s an added shipping expense associated with it,” he said. “But that could well change if the demand increases and large distributors find it worthwhile to build a facility in Texas. Of course, one of the main reasons demand and prices may increase is due to the interest being shown in alternative fuels like biodiesel.”
“While we haven’t worked out all the marketing and processing details as yet, we are confident that canola has real potential for Central and South Texas agriculture,” Stichler added. “We’re going to continue with our testing.”