Canola Gold in the Heartland

Canola Gold in the Heartland
By: Arnold Wyrick
Carbondale, IL - Take a drive down Pleasant Hill Road, South of Carbondale, and just as you approach the SIU farms, you'll be greeted with a field full of gold. Not the shiny kind jewelry is made out of, but the plant kind. The plant growing in those fields is canola.
Canola was originally developed in Canada and the Northern tier states of the U.S. as a summer crop. We Americans import three times more canola oil than is grown in this country.
But that's about to change according to SIU's Associate Professor of Plant and Soil Michael Schmidt. Doctor Schmidt sees fields of gold where farmers currently plant winter wheat.
"I think a lot of the wheat acreage we could double the acreage of winter crops in the region. This has the potential of being a $500,000,000 crop. I think that's a real possibility in the Southern Illinois region," Doctor Schmidt said.
There are many benefits to local farmers beyond more yield potential on their acreage.
"Canola is much like winter wheat, it takes the same equipment to plant it, the same equipment to harvest it. But it does have a higher nitrogen need. But the net return could be considerably more then winter wheat," says SIU Graduate Student Jarrett Nehring.
Plus the SIU strain of Canola is much more hardy then strains grown here back in the late 1980's.
"The problem at that time was it was being pushed with varieties that we're previously developed in Europe. And they did not have the winter hardiness that is required for this region," Doctor Schmidt said.
Many say canola oil is healthier than all other oils. It can also be made into fuel. But it's benefits don't stop there.
"There's higher yields coming off the soybeans planted behind canola, then those planted behind wheat. So it may have some benefits that way too," Schmidt said.