Routt County resident and owner of Intergalactic Hydrogen Fred Robinson thinks canola, shown here growing in a field, may be a source of biodiesel. The oil produced from the plant already is used as a healthful cooking oil in many foods.

File photo

Routt County resident and owner of Intergalactic Hydrogen Fred Robinson thinks canola, shown here growing in a field, may be a source of biodiesel. The oil produced from the plant already is used as a healthful cooking oil in many foods.

Canola an interesting prospect for area agriculture

The word "canola" is well-known everywhere as a healthy cooking oil. Shortening, margarine, cooking spray, mayonnaise, cake mixes and salad oil all are made using canola.

But that's not all.

Fred Robinson, Routt County resident and owner of Intergalactic Hydrogen, thinks canola might be a source of biodiesel, too.

The canola plant was developed by Canadian scientists in the 1970s. Their goal was to find a crop that would produce a healthy, edible oil.

Although they developed canola from a rapeseed, it is important to note that canola is not a rapeseed.

Its nutritional make-up is different.

According to the Canola Council of Canada, the name "canola," registered in Canada in 1970, comes from "Can" (Canada) and "ola" (oil).

The canola plant belongs to the Crucifer Family of plants that can be identified by the four yellow flower petals that form a cross.

Within the family, the canola belongs to the Genus Brassica, the same genus to which Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage belong.

The life cycle of canola, from germination to maturity, takes about 90 to 100 days. The plant is a cool-season crop that can be planted in early spring or winter (if there's enough snow cover). It grows to about one or two meters tall, producing yellow flowers that make seed pods, each containing 20 to 30 little round seeds.

That's where the oil comes from.

Canola has become an important crop in Canada - it's the nation's third largest grain export. And canola is grown in some states in the United States, too.

And so, for several years, Fred Robinson has been thinking about the possibility of growing canola in Northwest Colorado. He thinks the oil could be extracted and the rest of the plant could be used as livestock feed.

The plant also would revitalize the soil because it has deep roots that loosen the dirt.

Robinson said there are two potential markets that could generate income from the oil - food and biodiesel. If developed into biodiesel, which requires several refining processes, farmers and ranchers could use it to fuel their equipment and vehicles.

According to Robinson, there are several biodiesel cooperatives across the country that share a mobile crusher that's needed to extract the oil.

So, last year, Robinson bought 50 pounds of pioneer hybrid canola seed from a company in Idaho. He packaged the seed in little bags and gave it out to people as samples. He is hoping people in the valley will be interested enough in canola to finally grow a 50 square-foot (or 50-acre) test plot.

C.J. Mucklow, Agriculture Agent for Routt County Extension, said that two years ago, 10 acres of canola was planted in Routt County. But agriculture crops always are at the mercy of weather conditions, and that year the canola plants froze when they came up.

However, Mucklow said, "I'm confident that canola could grow here."

He agrees with Robinson that if enough canola were grown here, it perhaps could provide ranchers and farmers with a supplemental fuel. As for using the rest of the plant for animal food, Mucklow isn't sure.

Dan Fernandez, director of the CSU Extension Office for Dolores County in Dove Creek, said farmers are planting a little canola there. However, the amount they can plant is limited because of the lack of irrigation. They do have some seeds in storage that have not been processed yet.

Fernandez said one of the problems with growing canola has to do with the seed pods, which shatter easily because of a variety of weather conditions, such as wind and hail. He added that sometimes the pods just shatter naturally, too. This results in a loss of seeds which are tiny, like the head of a pencil.

Canola seeds are harvested with a regular combine, which has to be checked carefully for little holes. Otherwise, the tiny seeds might be lost.

Fernandez reported that the CSU Southwest Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket has been testing canola. People interested in finding out more about the crop, including where to purchase canola seeds, can call the center at 970-562-4255.

To reach Robinson, call 736-8451 or e-mail him at IntergalacticI@aol.com

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