Canola as an oilseed crop for New England

Final Report for LNE07-264

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $78,867.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Peter Sexton
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Andrew Plant
University of Maine Coope
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Project Information


Over the three year project period, farmers from New England participated in on-farm research, workshops and conferences to learn the intricacies of growing canola in New England. As a result of the project, farmers have gained knowledge that will increase crop input efficiency and on-farm profits. Current projections estimate that ten farmers from Maine and eight from Vermont have successfully adopted canola as a full time rotation crop on approximately 3,500 acres. The adoption of canola as a rotation crop by these farmers has been estimated to increase their rotation crop value in comparison to small grains by $50 to $100 per acre. The success of this project has also spurred the entrepreneurial spirit of a few Maine agriculturalists, who have started a small food grade canola oil company, “Maine Natural Oils.”


Canola (Brassica napus) was developed in western Canada as a crop for the Prairie Provinces to produce vegetable oil and protein meal. Most of the production in the US is also located in the Great Plains (primarily in North Dakota). Growers in the Northeast are increasingly interested in canola both as a cash crop, and as a potential energy crop. Most of the production information for canola is based on research done in the Midwest and/or in the Prairie Provinces. Farmers there are primarily growing canola in alkaline soils developed under grass sod; they are planting primarily in a cropping system based on small grains (wheat, barley, oats); their environment is relatively dry (< 20” of precipitation annually). In contrast, farmers in the Northeast are primarily growing crops in acidic soils developed under forests; they are planting in cropping systems primarily based on dairy or potato production; their environment is not that dry (> 30” of precipitation annually). Given the different environments, the question arises as to whether agronomic management of the crop will also be different. There is particular interest in looking at the effect of seed rate and row spacing on white mold incidence (which is more of a problem in humid environments). Rotation systems also play a key role in white mold susceptibility. In addition to uncertainty regarding optimum agronomic practices for canola in the Northeast, farmers lack experience in harvesting, storing, and marketing canola. The goal of this project was to address the need for information on canola production through a combination of applied research and invited expertise from people experienced in canola production. We accomplished this with a series of on-farm trials in Vermont and Maine to looking stand establishment and fertilizer response, research-station trials in Maine to look at the effect of pH on canola and to evaluate rotation effects on white mold, trials in Maine and Vermont to evaluate the potential of winter canola in the Northeast, and through grower conferences held in Vermont and Maine.

Performance Target:

1) At least two farmers in Maine and Vermont will be recruited as project partners with Extension to help conduct canola research trials and guide research directions. Achieved
2) Of the 450 potato farmers in Maine, and the 1,150 dairy farmers in Vermont, 80% will be aware of canola as a potential rotation crop and have received information on its production. Achieved
3) Using data from plot research and research partners, twenty of the 1,600 Vermont and Maine farms will successfully invest in growing, harvesting and utilizing grains on over 1,000 acres
to improve the sustainability of their farm operations through the development of more integrated, profitable and environmentally sound farming systems. Achieved/Fallen short
10 growers in Maine, 3000 acres of production estimated
8 growers in Vermont, 500 acres of production estimated
4) Using data from plot research and research partners, fifty of the 1,600 Vermont and Maine farms will improve canola yields and reduce production costs ultimately improving the sustainability of their farm operations. Fallen short. Eighteen farmers were estimated growing canola at project end.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Heather Darby
  • Gary Howard
  • John Jemison
  • Gregory Porter


Materials and methods:
On-Farm Trials

Seed Rate, Row spacing, and N Rates: The impact of seeding rate on yield and disease were evaluated. The seeding rates included 3, 6, 9, and 12 lbs per acre. In addition, row spacing of 6, 12, and 18” were tested at the 6 lb seed rate to determine the impact on disease and yield. All plots were rated for white mold incidence during seed-filling. In separate trials, nitrogen (N) rates of 0, 30, 60, 90, and 120 lbs of N per acre were evaluated with and without fungicide application at flowering. Each treatment replicated four times in the above trials. The seed rate and row spacing study used a randomized complete block design, while the N study used a split– plot design with fungicide application being the main plot, and N rate being the subplot.

On-Farm Nutrient Survey. A nutrient survey of canola fields was conducted by tissue sampling before flowering with a complete nutrient analysis (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, B, Mn, Fe, and Cu). Data indicated that S and B levels were adequate in the fields tested. A few fields showed marginal levels of Cu and Zn. This is something that may merit some follow-up work in future studies.

No-till Canola. In Maine, on-farm plots to compare no-till canola and conventional canola production were attempted but failed to establish due to soil and weather conditions in conjunction with a planting depth error in the field. In Vermont, no-till canola yielded significantly lower than canola grown using conventional tillage methods.

Research Station Trials

Canola Response to Soil pH. A replicated experiment was planted in 2007 at Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle to evaluate the pH response of a standard spring canola variety. The 16 field plots used for this study are existing plots that have been differentially limed to create a pH range of 5.1 to 7.1 (2005 soil test results). Plots were 27 feet x 50 feet and arranged in a randomized complete block design. Plant densities, heights, pest incidence, and grain yields were measured.

Winter Canola. Four winter canola varieties were planted at Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle to evaluate the ability to survive Maine winters and their productivity compared to standard spring variety. Seeding was done with a small-plot seeder in a randomized complete block design with four replications per treatment. Plot size was 6 feet x 30 feet. This was conducted over two seasons. In northern Maine and Vermont, none of the varieties tested successfully overwintered in both seasons the trial was conducted. However, new information suggests that modifying winter canola planting dates may result in successful overwintering of this crop. Winter canola planted from Sept 15 through October 15th has resulted in poor results. Last season, winter canola was planted in late August and over wintered successfully in northern Vermont. Further data is being collected on proper planting dates for winter canola for this area.

Grower Conferences and Workshops

Three regional conferences were held for growers in northern New England who are interested in canola and oilseed production. The first was held at Bangor on December 3rd and 4th of 2007 and featured speakers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, as well as from Maine and Vermont. This included presentations from producers and university personnel on canola and sunflower agronomy, on-farm processing of oilseeds, and energy conservation. On February 17 and 18 of 2009, a similar conference was held at Fairlee, Vermont, focusing on renewable energy and oilseed production. This conference also involved both speakers from outside the region as well as university personnel from Vermont, Maine, and Minnesota. A third conference was held on March 15 & 16th in Manchester, NH. The conference combined academic, industry and farmer experts from the region and beyond. There were 90 attendees. In addition to these conferences a number of on-farm workshops were held in Maine and Vermont. A hands-on workshop for small-scale biodiesel and fuel ethanol production was held at Oakfield, Maine on June 11, 2008 and in Bennington, VT on June 10, 2008. Mr. Matt Rudolf of Piedmont Biofuels, and Mr. David Gordon of Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, Inc., presented information on practical points of biodiesel, and fuel ethanol production, respectively, to 62 growers and interested members of the public. Two additional on-farm workshops were held in Vermont during 2008 and 2009. Both workshops focused on agronomics, oilseed storage, and fuel processing. There were a total of 120 participants. Presentations on canola agronomy have also been made at local grower meetings in northern Maine and Vermont.

Research results and discussion:

Milestone 1. On-farm trials will be established in Maine and Vermont to refine and verify stand establishment and crop management recommendations for canola in New England. Results will be reviewed with growers and trials modified to continue to meet the needs of the growers.

Milestone 2. Grower conferences will be held in Maine and Vermont to disseminate information to farmers. Results of on-farm research will be shared and speakers will be invited from outside the region to share their experience. Local farmers will also share their canola growing experiences with other farmers.

Milestone 3. Extension fact sheets and publications will be updated with the new research information and made available to growers and agricultural industry.


Agronomic trials with canola were completed in 2007 and 2008 and the results were shared with growers. The no-till trial had limited success and needs additional research (Table 4). As a result of our trials it was determined that an adequate seeding rate for canola in the northeast was 6 lbs/acre (Table 1). Row spacing studies determined that there was little effect upon yields for row spacing within the range of 6”-18”, as seen in Table 2. Twelve inch row-spacing may be suitable for production as long as fertility and weed control are adequate. Nitrogen rate studies conducted showed at least weak responses to nitrogen rates up to 90 lbs/acre (Table 3). White mold pressure in each year of these studies wasn’t significant enough to allow for evaluation of seeding rate, row spacing, and nitrogen fertilization rate effects upon the disease incidence and severity. The effects of soil pH levels upon canola production indicate a strong response to liming at pH less than 5.5, a weak response between pH 5.5 to 6.0, and no response above a pH of 6.0.

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

As discussed above grower conferences were held in Maine and Vermont. Presentations from these meetings were posted on the web. Extension personnel involved in the grant made numerous personal contacts with growers to disseminate information and answer questions that farmers had regarding canola production.


1. Sexton, P. Spring Canola: An Oilseed Crop for Potato Growers.

2.Darby, H. 2008 Canola oil seed performance trial results.

3.Darby, H. 2009 Canola oil seed performance trial results.

4.Sexton, P., Currie, N., Cancelarich, J., Jemison, J., and Darby, H. 2009. Preliminary evaluation of small-scale biodiesel production from canola in northern New England. Online. Crop Management doi:10.1094/CM-2009-0402-01-RS.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

Through our post-project survey, we find that growers have most commonly adopted seeding rate, nitrogen fertility, and pH management information elucidated through this project. This has led to an increase in crop input efficiency and subsequent net profits for the farmers that have adopted the practices.

An example of an indirect benefit of the educational component of this project was the formation of a new company (“Maine Natural Oils”) in Houlton, Maine. This company is processing locally produced non-GMO canola into cooking oil. If this enterprise is successful it will provide a closer market for canola producers as well as locally produced cooking oil for consumers in the region.

Economic Analysis

Information on canola agronomy decreases risk of failure for new growers who lack experience with the crop. Also, the ability to plant in wider row spacing may decrease the likelihood of white mold occurring, which could obviate the need for a fungicide application to control the disease – this would involve a savings of about $25 an acre in terms of chemical and application costs. In the trials conducted we didn’t happen to have a lot of disease pressure, so we were not able to measure this well – this is a point that needs further research. One of the most important aspects of this project may be the information provided on small-scale processing of canola and other oilseeds. Markets are a limiting factor for canola production in New England. The ability to add value to canola with on-farm or local processing would be a great asset for farmers and for the region if it can be profitably developed. For example, if a grower can produce 60 gallons of canola oil per acre of production, and market it at a value of $4.00 per quart, that represents a gross income of $960 per acre just for the oil, versus a value of closer to $350 per acre if it is sold directly on the commodity market. Even so, the adoption of canola as a rotation crop in a commodity sense, has helped increase on-farm net profits when comparing production costs and gross profits of canola to several typical small grain rotations. The typical calculated value increase in net profits of canola compared to small grains ranges from $50 per acre to $100 per acre. This has not always translated to breaking even, but at least to a minimization of loss. There are many costs and variables that farmers have to address here, nevertheless there is increasing interest in adding value with local processing of oilseeds. This is something that the educational component of this grant has contributed to.

Farmer Adoption

Educational work in this project has included information on small-scale processing of canola and other oilseeds. This has important implications in terms of developing local markets and decreasing transportation of raw materials and products, developing more sufficiency in terms of food production and perhaps energy, and in providing a source of local seed meal for dairy rations (if seed meal is produced locally this would provide some scope to limit accrual of P in dairy production systems). All these objectives have merit, but they involve long-term changes in production systems and development of local markets. While still in its nascent phases, there are several small-scale presses operating in northern New England at this point, where several years ago there were none. As this processing capacity increases, acreage of canola and other oilseeds will increase with it. This project has contributed to this process by helping to inform growers of the possibilities for local production and processing of oilseeds.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

The benefit of wider row spacing for limiting development of white mold needs further elucidation. A preliminary evaluation of potential response to micronutrients, particularly B, Zn and Cu might be useful. Our post-project survey identified that local market availability is the the leading farmer-perceived challenge to increasing the utilization of canola as a rotation crop. An identified agronomic challenge remains harvest management of canola with farmers still evaluating swathing versus direct cutting of the canola. Evaluation of how best to manage small scale presses to optimize oil recovery and quality is an area that sorely needs further work. Further work also needs to be conducted on meal end-use for the highest return to the farmer.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.