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Starner, D.E., A.A. Hamama, and H.L. Bhardwaj. 2002. Prospects of canola as an alternative winter crop in Virginia. p. 127–130. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Prospects of Canola as an Alternative Winter Crop in Virginia*

David E. Starner, Anwar A. Hamama, and Harbans L. Bhardwaj

*These research efforts were supported, in part, by funds allocated to Virginia State University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University by National Canola Research Program (Mid-Western Region) of U.S. Department of Agriculture through Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. We thank Charles Rife of Kansas State University for support related to National Winter Canola Variety Trials.

The demand for canola oil (Brassica napus L. and B. rapa L., Brassicaceae), which is considered healthy for human nutrition due to its lowest content of saturated fatty acids (5% to 8%) and moderate content of poly-unsaturated fatty acids, is increasing at a tremendous rate in the United States. Canola oil consumption in the US increased from zero prior to 1986 to the equivalent of over 8,100,000 ha (20 million acres) of production in 1994. This represented an increase in consumption of 50% since 1992 (Rife 2001). Most of this oil was imported from Canada. During 1998, the United States imported approximately 419,000 tonnes (t) of canola oil from Canada with a seven-year average of approximately 355,000 t ( Canola production in the United States tripled by 1998 and reached 1.13 million acres but consumption still outpaces production at the rate of nearly 3 to 1 (Rife 2001). Most of this production is from spring types of canola cultivars in the northern Great Plains states of North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. This indicates a significant need to develop domestic production of canola and affords an opportunity for diversification of the US cropping system. However, success of an introduced crop would depend upon profitability, interest among producers, availability of high yielding cultivars, existence of a production/marketing system, and education of producers.

Research has demonstrated that canola is a potential winter crop in Virginia (Starner et al. 1996, 1999) but underscores the need for winter-hardy cultivars to assure a profitable potential yield every year. The situation in Virginia is unique given that environmental conditions preclude use of cultivars developed for production in Georgia and other southeastern states where winter-hardiness is not a requirement and spring types have yielded poorly. The two land-grant universities in Virginia have been cooperating in attempts to develop/identify winter hardy, high yielding cultivars and for developing a production system since the 1994–1995 season. Our participation in the National Winter Canola Variety Trial has identified several cultivars/lines for production suitability in Virginia. We have also developed a new canola cultivar (‘VSX-1’) which is currently being evaluated at approximately 30 US locations. The production research has determined that ideal canola planting time is different for various regions of Virginia: middle of September to early October in the northern Piedmont region, October in the southern Piedmont region, and mid October to early November in the coastal plain region. Approximately 5.6 kg/ha (5 lb. of seed/acre) and use of approximately 112 kg/ha (100 lb./acre) each of N, P, and K (on soils testing medium in P and high in K, results in optimal seed yields (Starner et al. 1999).

Our efforts to develop commercial canola production in Virginia are currently focusing on identification of canola cultivars suitable for commercial production in Virginia and development and refinement of production system.


Cultivar Evaluations

During each of the last three crop seasons (1998–1999, 1999–2000, and 2000–2001), replicated experiments were conducted at three locations (Orange, Petersburg, and Suffolk) in Virginia to identify high yielding cultivars. These experiments were conducted as a part of the National Winter Canola Variety Trials being coordinated by Charles Rife of Kansas State University (Rife 2001). During 1998–1999 season, 30 breeding lines and cultivars were evaluated at the three locations as a RCBD experiment with three replications. These included ARC91003-07L-3, ARC91004-12L-3, ARC91016-41L-2, ARC91017-44E-5, ARC91022-59L-4, ‘Bridger’, ‘Casino’, ‘Ceres’, ‘Contact’, DC-H29, ‘Ericka’, ‘Falcon’, GA488.7H, ID92WC2.14.1.2, ID92WC2.24.5.3, ID93WC.4.6.3, ID93WC.5.17.3, IDWR.465.2.48, ‘Jetton’, KS3203, KS3505, KS3580, MO503-1, ‘Olson’, ‘Pendleton’, ‘Selkirk’, ST-994, UGA96200E, ‘Winfield’, and WW1089. The plant material during 1999–2000 season also consisted of 30 breeding lines and cultivars: ARC91004-12L-3, ARC91016-41L-2, ARC91017-44E-5, ARC91022-59L-4, ‘Arctic’, ‘Bridger’, ‘Casino’, ‘Ceres’, ‘Ericka’, G96038A, G96200E, G96202, ‘Inka’, ‘Jetton’, KS3203, KS6120, KSB0008, KSM3-1-120, KSM3-1-124, ‘Pendleton’, ‘Plainsman’, ‘Rapier’, UI.3.426, UI2.3453, UI4.433, UI4.634, UI5.17.3.5, UI76.75414, ‘Wichita’, and ‘Winfield’. During 2000–2001 season, 28 breeding lines and cultivars were evaluated: ‘Acropolis’, ARC91004, ARC91016-41E-5, ARC91016-41L-2, ARC91017-44E-5, ARC91022-59L-4, Arc91023-63l-5, ‘Bridger’, ‘Casino’, ‘Ceres’, ‘Ericka’, ‘Explorer’, GA96038A, GA96200E, GA96202, ‘Jetton’, KS-SU-CO5-S, KS-SU-WO5-S, KS7419, KS7436, KS7638, KS7730, KSM3-1-124, ‘Plainsman’, VDH6036-195, ‘VSX-1’, ‘Wichita’, and ‘Winfield’.

Production System

Four rates of sulfur fertilizer (0, 15, 30, and 45 kg/ha) were compared at Petersburg in a RCBD design with four replications. An experiment to determine effects of sulfur and boron on canola yield was conducted at Orange. In this experiment, four treatments (34 kg S/ha, 8 kg B/ha, 34 kg S/ha and 8 kg B/ha, and a check) were evaluated in four replications. In these experiments, ‘VSX-1’, a new canola cultivar developed at Virginia State University, was used. Ammonium sulfate (24% sulfur and 21% nitrogen) was used as the source of sulfur. Each check plot received 112 kg/ha (100 lb./acre) of N from ammonium nitrate (30% N). The rates of both fertilizers were adjusted so that only differences in these plots were for the rate of sulfur. Each plot consisted of three rows with 30 cm (1 ft) row spacing. In a separate experiment, six row spacings of 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90 cm (6, 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36 inches) were evaluated in a RCBD design with three replications at Petersburg. Each plot consisted of three rows with all plots separated by 61 cm (2 ft). Middle rows from all plots in these experiments were harvested to record seed yields.

In both the sulfur and row spacing experiments conducted at Petersburg, lipids were extracted from 20 g of ground seed three times at room temperature by homogenization with hexane/isopropanol (3:2, v/v) (St. John and Bell 1989). The fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) of the lipid were prepared (Dahmer et al. 1989) and analyzed in a Varian model Vista 6000 gas chromatograph equipped with a fused silica capillary column (SP-wax10, 25 m × 0.25 mm i.d.), a flame ionization detector and a Spectra Physics model 4290 integrator. Carrier gas was He at a column flow rate 0.8 ml/min with a split ratio of 1:80. Oven, injector, and detector temperatures were maintained at 210°, 240°, and 260°C, respectively. Peaks were identified by comparison to retention of FAME standards and quantified by the use of 17:0 as an internal standard.

All data were analyzed by procedures in version 6.11 of SAS (SAS 1996). Duncan’s Multiple Range Test was used for mean separation with a significance level of 5%.


In order to project a mean yield for Virginia farmers, we used the five best performing entries from the 1998–1999, 1999–2000, and 2000–2001 trials. The seed yields of five best performing entries in experiments conducted during 1998–1999, 1999–2000, and 2000–2001, indicated that mean seed yields in Virginia varied from 1951 to 3179 kg/ha with an overall average of 2364 kg/ha (Table 1).

Table 1. Seed yields of top five high performing canola lines in Virginia during 1998–1999, 1999–2000, and 2000–2001 crop seasons.

Season Seed yield
UGA96200E 3179z
Jetton 2484
Olson 2457
ARC91016-41L-2 2437
Falcon 2400
Mean 2591
Wichita 2513
G96200E 2466
ARC91017-44E-5 2342
ARC91022-59L-4 2261
G96038A 2172
Mean 2351
VSX-1 2477
VDH6036-195 2174
Jetton 2094
Wichita 2055
ARC91023-63L-5 1951
Mean 2150
Overall mean 2364

zMeans from three locations during each year (Orange, Petersburg, and Suffolk).
These lines were evaluated under National Winter Canola Variety trials.

The sulfur fertilizer rate significantly affected the seed yield at Petersburg which varied from 1734, 1765, 2209, and 2705 kg/ha, respectively for 0, 15, 30, and 45 kg S/ha (Table 2) at Petersburg. The sulfur rate effects on oil content were not significant but because of significant effects on seed yield, the oil yield was significantly affected by sulfur fertilizer rates. The oil yield varied from 724, 745, 930, and 1097 kg/ha, respectively for 0, 15, 30, and 45 kg S/ha. The oil yield following 30 and 45 kg S/ha were statistically similar and were statistically superior to those following 0 and 15 kg S/ha. Effects of sulfur fertilizer rates on fatty acid composition of oil were not significant. This study indicated that the optimum rate of sulfur fertilizer for canola seed yield was 45 kg/ha. However, based on oil yield, it may be desirable to apply only 30 kg S/ha (27 lb./acre) for canola production in Virginia in soils of sandy loam texture. However, an exploratory experiment conducted at Orange, on clayey soils, indicated that additional sulfur and boron did not increase canola yield (Table 2).

Table 2. Effects of production practices on canola productivity in Virginia.

Location Production
Seed yield
Oil yield
Petersburg Sulfur
  0 1734 cz 41.5 a 724 b
  15 1765 c 42.3 a 745 b
  30 2209 b 42.0 a 930 ab
  45 2705 a 40.6 a 1097 a
Orange Sulfur and boron
  0 1947 a -- --
  34 S 1873 a -- --
  8 B 1758 a -- --
  34 S and 8 B 1746 a -- --
Petersburg Row spacing
  15 2898 a 38.5 a 1106 a
  30 2413 a 39.4 a 943 a
  45 1943 a 40.0 a 776 a
  60 2180 a 41.1 a 896 a
  75 1963 a 39.4 a 771 a
  90 2223 a 40.1 a 890 a

zMeans followed by similar letters are not different according to Duncan’s Multiple Range Test (5% level).

The average seed yield, oil content in the seed, and oil yield (2898, 2413, 1943, 2180, 1963, and 2223 kg/ha; 38.5, 39.4, 40.0, 41.1, 39.4, and 40.1%; and 1106, 943, 776, 896, 771, 890 kg/ha, respectively for 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90 cm) were unaffected by row spacings (Table 2). The fatty acid profiles were also not affected by row spacings, the total saturated fatty acids varied from 8.6% to 9.8%, total unsaturated 90.2% to 91.4%, mono-unsaturated fatty acids 65.1% to 67.2%, and poly-unsaturated fatty acids 23.0% to 26.5%. The results indicated that canola can be grown by using any of the six row spacings evaluated in this study. Significance of these results lies in the fact that by growing canola in wider rows, weeds can be controlled mechanically, the herbicide use can be eliminated, allowing canola to be produced organically.

Availability of a new, locally adapted cultivar (‘VSX-1’), which was evaluated for the first time in the National Winter Canola Variety Trials during 2000–2001, along with a fine tuned production system that would include application of sulfur fertilizer, would help enhance the prospects of establishing canola as an alternate winter crop in Virginia. The observation that canola production using wider rows may be feasible without any reduction in yield or quality, may lead to production of organic canola and may positively affect returns from canola.

The yield level obtained in Virginia during the last three years compares quite favorably above that in Canada which varied from 964 to 1323 kg/ha ( The average seed prices in Canada, on a calendar year basis, during last five years (1995–1999) have varied from CAN $335 to 445/t. These prices approximate to US $223 to 297/1000 kg. Based on similar prices, Virginia farmers could expect to receive returns varying from $435 to 944/ha ($176 to 382/acre). In comparison, returns from winter wheat, a crop that canola may have the potential to replace, have been approximately $395/ha ($160/acre) in 1994, $585/ha ($237/acre) in 1995, $543/ha ($220/acre) in 1996, $504/ha ($204/acre) in 1997, $267/ha ($108/acre) in 1998, and $281/ha ($114/acre) in 1999 (Virginia Agricultural Statistics 2000). This is without any government programs such as loan deficiency payments.


Our results indicate that canola has great prospects in Virginia. These results have the potential to help not only Virginia farmers and consumers by helping establish canola as an alternate and new cash crop but could also be applicable to other states in the mid-Atlantic region.