From Oregon to Oklahoma, farmers have started planting canola in earnest, rotating the yellow-flowered crop that could blossom into a replacement for artery-clogging trans fats found in myriad junk foods, such as cookies, cakes and pies.
The amount of canola being grown in the U.S. has increased dramatically in the last two decades or so, with 1.7 million acres planted in 2012. Some of it is growing in areas such as Oklahoma, which for generations has been dominated by wheat and cattle operations.
As Oklahoma grower Jeff Scott joked, before canola gained popularity, a farmer’s idea of crop rotation here was taking an 800-pound steer off a pasture and replacing it with a 500-pounder.
Canola seeds produce oil with less saturated fat than many cooking oils and got a boost last fall when the Food and Drug Administration announced it was changing its view on trans fats. The FDA issued a preliminary decision that trans fat, also called partially hydrogenated oils, would no longer be listed as “generally recognized as safe” and began taking comment from the food industry on a timeline for eliminating their use.
Increased use of canola has led to strong prices that can top other crops. For example, canola now brings farmers about $10 a bushel, compared to about $6 to $7 for wheat.
A well-run canola operation could harvest up to 40 bushels an acre.
“I’ve been on the ground floor of working with winter canola, and whenever you try something new, you’re going to have a lot of challenges, but I tell you what, in the last few years, the winter canola ... (has been) a game changer for farmers — I’m seeing it out in the field,” said Heath Sanders, a canola field specialist near Lawton, Okla., who’s been rotating winter canola with his other crops for the past seven years on the family farm.