High Erucic Acid Rapeseed

When I am driving down the road and see a beautiful field of yellow flowers, I think to myself, “Wow! Canola is such a pretty crop.” But, did you know that canola and high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR) are visibly similar, and the two crops are commonly misidentified? It was not until this growing season that I realized that canola and HEAR were different crops with different purposes! The main way to tell High erucic acid rapeseed and canola apart is to analyze their genetic makeup. Canola was developed from rapeseed and to be considered canola, the oil must contain 2% or less erucic acid.

Sidenote: Yes, I realize that not all fields with yellow flowers are being used for farming. There are several different weeds that disguise themselves as yellow flowers too!

Anyway, I wanted to learn more about HEAR since this is the first year we are growing it on our farm. So here are some facts I found about the crop:

  • The seeds are tiny. They are about the size of a chia seed. Most farmers have to adjust and/or add equipment to their planters to even be able to plant HEAR.
  • HEAR is less susceptible to frost damage than other crops that grow throughout the winter months. A late season frost would primarily damage the flowers on the plant only.
  • The crop naturally suppresses weed development with its dense crop canopy. This gives farmers a chance to cut back on herbicide applications.
  • Many farmers choose to plant canola because of its ability to control weeds, and it specifically helps in diminishing rye contamination; a growing concern to farmers!
  • There are currently no existing GMO varieties of HEAR that exist.
  • HEAR is a great alternative for winter wheat. It also tends to be planted and harvested before winter wheat as well, making it fit perfectly in our double cropping rotation.
  • HEAR is grown for non-food markets. It is used as a key ingredient in plastic, cosmetics, rubber, pharmaceuticals, and lubricants. Bottle caps and grocery bags are two everyday products that contain HEAR!
  • The seeds develop in the plant pods, much like a soybean plant. When these  pods turn yellow-brown they are ready to be harvested.

We are a no-till operation; we do little to no tillage from year to year. Through trial and error, the common consensus among farmers is that HEAR grows best in conventionally tilled fields. This was a challenge for us to wrap our heads around, as we are strong believers in the idea of no-till and were unwilling to let our beliefs slip from our practices. However, we decided to give growing HEAR a shot. We even implemented our own trial; we planted about 20 acres in conventionally tilled soil and about 20 acres in no-till soil.

Regardless of the result at harvest, we are excited to be trying something new. The best way to learn is to do something yourself. If you are ever driving down the road wondering if those gently, rolling hills of yellow flowers are high erucic acid rapeseed or canola.. we encourage you to #askafarmer.