What Is All That Yellow?

— Written By Sarah Watts and last updated by
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Rapeseed in Lower Currituck

If roses are red and violets are blue, then what is all that yellow blooming in the fields? Many of you may be asking yourself this question as you travel around Currituck County this time of year. Well you can stop wondering. That beautiful carpet of yellow is a crop known as Rapeseed, though many of you may be familiar with this crop under its other name of Canola.

Rapeseed is a winter crop, among others like wheat and rye, that acts as a commodity cover crop. Cover crops are planted in the fall and provide soil improvement benefits in preparation for spring cash crops, reduce weed pressure during the winter, and increase plant area biomass for beneficial insects. Cover crops also reduce soil erosion from rain and wind, and help sustain soil microbial life through a period when other crops are not sustainable. In addition to the ecological benefits, farmers enjoy an added source of income ready for harvest in early spring. While the industry is just beginning in North Carolina which, according to the USDA, produces less than 10,000 acres of rapeseed each year, North Dakota leads the nation in rapeseed production. According to the North Dakota State University Extension Service, North Dakota harvests over 1.2 million acres annually. Resulting in over 89 percent of the domestic canola production.

Your next question may be “What is all of it used for?”. Well I am glad you asked. Rapeseed has more uses than simply the canola oil that you purchase in the grocery store, although that is by far its largest use. Besides its uses in the oilseed industry, the portion of the seed left after the oil is extracted, called canola meal, is used in livestock and poultry feed due to its high protein content. The rapeseed plant itself is also used as an annual forage for livestock. In addition to being consumed, the oil can also serve as a high-grade lubricant and fuel additive in the rapidly expanding biodiesel fuel industry. For example, research from the University of Idaho shows that biodiesel made from canola, gels at lower temperatures than biodiesel produced from other sources. This has future potential for canola biodiesel to be a more suitable fuel for colder areas.

So next time you pass those yellow fields, driving throughout Currituck County, thank the farmer who is growing a crop that not only makes us, our livestock, and our environment healthier, but helps produce a component of the fuel that helps us drive by those fields in the first place. For more information on rapeseed or other crops grown in Currituck County, contact Sarah Watts at the Currituck County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at 252-232-2262 or sewatts@ncsu.edu.

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