The increase in canola oil use is well documented, but U.S. production has not kept pace with consumption. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and canola industry are engaged in supporting research to improve canola productivity and profitability in ways that will lead to expanded production around the country. At a 2017 U.S. Canola Association meeting, NIFA facilitated a half-day workshop showing off USDA and other agency research advancing canola production. The NIFA Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Grants Program has helped canola researchers address needs in all regions across the nation. Work includes testing germplasm and breeding superior performing varieties; developing new commercial products from canola; and innovating new production, harvest and processing methods for production systems that include canola. There is a focus on getting results to commercial users as soon as possible, so NIFA’s involvement with stakeholders in setting priorities, project development and product delivery is required.
There is also cutting edge genetic research being done by the Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy program, jointly supported by the USDA and Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. The program is taking apart the genetic architecture of Brassica napus and developing genetic markers to accelerate the development of new varieties. This research benefits canola for both industrial and food uses.
For the past four years, the NIFA-DOE Biomass Research and Development Initiative has supported a research project led by the Agricultural Research Service to increase efficiencies of rapeseed used in jet fuel production. The research factors in the entire supply chain from plant breeding, crop production and harvesting to processing and conversion to fuels. Special attention is given to identifying the best winter and spring lines suited to western U.S. growing conditions as well as which other oilseeds are better adapted where rapeseed is not the best choice. The findings have been used to determine the most economic ways rapeseed fits into production systems. In addition, a national grower survey will reveal what it would take for farmers to include rapeseed in their rotation. Remote sensing technologies have also been developed to manage harvest time and oils with different fat profiles are being looked at to lower refinery costs for jet fuel.
The Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation System Research Center is conducting a future-looking project that will help the canola industry manage production and utilization as the number of planted acres increases. Researchers there have developed a Transportation Optimization Tool to determine the best options for moving the crop from where it is grown to a crushing plant and refinery.
Thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, eligible national and state commodity boards are now able to equally co-fund topics for research and outreach with the NIFA through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program. This is the flagship USDA competitive research program and many of its programs could apply to greatly increasing canola production across the United States.
This is a snapshot of what is happening and what could happen in the canola research world. The NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education and extension to solve challenges to help ensure the long-term viability of American agriculture. It looks forward to working with the canola industry for years to come.
Jeffrey Steiner, Ph.D., is national program leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Washington, D.C.