ELKTON, Ky. — The land may be blanketed with snow, but Hart AgStrong and Rubisco Seeds are already picturing fields filled with canola this spring.
Representatives from the two agriculture companies hosted an informational meeting recently at West Side Church of Christ in Elkton to educate farmers on canola, nicknamed “America’s newest winter row crop,” and to encourage farmers to plant it next fall.
The meeting covered everything about canola, from preparing the land for planting to harvesting it for production at the new AgStrong processing plant in Trenton.
“The bottom line is we need more acres,” said Mike Garland, crop development director for AgStrong. The company contracts farmers to grow canola for their oilseed crushing plant.
Canola is a relatively new row crop in the U.S., but its seed contains 40 to 46 percent oil, which is often used for cooking. The oil is extracted through crushing and the remaining canola meal is sold as feed for livestock.
Six farmers listened in as Garland and Brian Caldbeck, consultant agronomist and hybrid canola expert, showed them why they should jump into the market.
“The demand far outstrips the supply,” Garland said while sharing a graph from the Department of Agriculture.
Consumption of canola oil has exceeded domestic production since 1987. In 2009, Americans used more than 2.8 billion pounds of canola oil, but U.S. farmers produced only 800 million pounds. When compared to Canada and European companies, U.S. farmers make up only 1 percent of the market.
“Canola should’ve been launched (in the U.S.) 20 years ago,” Garland said. “The market’s here because we have a beautiful soil type. It’s just the smart thing to do.”
Garland said demand for canola oil continues to grow as consumers become more conscious about where their food comes from and how it is prepared.
Based on research by POS Bio-Sciences, canola oil has the lowest percentage of saturated fat when compared to other commonly used cooking oils, and comes in third to safflower oil and olive oil with percentage of monounsaturated fat, known as “good fat.”
“With everything moving toward no saturated or fatty acids, that’s what’s really blown this thing up,” he said.
He went on to say that consumers want to buy products from local producers; therefore, canola oil produced by AgStrong is sold under the brand Solio Family Oils. The all-natural, non-GMO oil comes from canola farmers in Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri.
Garland said AgStrong has “a little over a third” of the amount of canola-growing acreage that they plan to have in the Pennyrile.
“That’s why we built the plant right here because we have more acres in this area,” he said. “We need to double our acres for the plant for next year. That’s basically where we want to be.”
With a 23,000 square foot crushing facility just down the road, AgStrong is hoping more local farmers will grow canola during the upcoming season. The crop is planted in mid-September or early-October and harvested in early June with desiccation.
“Build it and they will come,” he said about the processing plant. “That’s what we were told. Please don’t make liars out of us.”
Brian Caldbeck, a hybrid canola seed supplier, took over the discussion to share the benefits and challenges of growing canola. He said canola:
- Is a winter rotational broadleaf crop that helps with diversification between soybeans and wheat,
- Is an “excellent” crop to control weeds,
- Requires no special equipment for grain farmers
- Is easy to harvest, and
- Has an average profitability between 30 to 35 bushels per acre in the U.S. Caldbeck estimated that local farmers could get 50 to 60 bushels per acre.
One Todd County farmer, Floyd Henry, started growing canola almost 10 years ago. Henry said his yields tend to be 60 to 70 bushels an acre.
“Getting it established wasn’t a problem,” he said. “The hardest part is getting more people to start growing it. I say just try a very small acre just to get started. Just take the risk and try it.”
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243
AgStrong has sample contracts for farmers who are interested in learning more about growing canola for the company. For more information, call Mike Garland at 864-906-4304 or email email@example.com. Brian Caldbeck is a consultant agronomist and a hybrid canola seed supplier. For more information about how to grow canola, call 270-316-4316 or visit www.rubiscoseeds.com.