When to plant rapeseed?

Contents

What Is Rapeseed: Information About Rapeseed Benefits And History

While they have a very unfortunate name, rape plants are widely grown the world over for their extremely fatty seeds that are used both for nutritious animal feed and for oil. Keep reading to learn more about rapeseed benefits and growing rape plants in the garden.

Rapeseed Information

What is rapeseed? Rape plants (Brassica napus) are members of the brassica family, which means they’re closely related to mustard, kale, and cabbage. Like all brassicas, they are cool weather crops, and growing rape plants in the spring or autumn is preferable.

The plants are very forgiving and will grow in a

wide range of soil qualities as long as it is well-draining. They will grow well in acidic, neutral, and alkaline soils. They will even tolerate salt.

Rapeseed Benefits

Rape plants are almost always grown for their seeds, which contain a very high percentage of oil. Once harvested, the seeds can be pressed and used for cooking oil or non-edible oils, such as lubricants and biofuels. The plants harvested for their oil are annuals.

There are also biennial plants that are mainly grown as feed for animals. Because of the high fat content, biennial rape plants make an excellent feed and is often used as forage.

Rapeseed vs. Canola Oil

While the words rapeseed and canola are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not quite the same thing. While they belong to the same species, canola is a specific cultivar of the rape plant that is grown to produce food grade oil.

Not all varieties of rapeseed are edible for humans due to the presence of erucic acid, which is especially low in canola varieties. The name “canola” was actually registered in 1973 when it was developed as an alternative to rapeseed for edible oil.

Performance of Two Rape (Brassica napus) Cultivars under Different Fertilizer Management Levels in the Smallholder Sector of Zimbabwe

Abstract

Crop response to fertilizer application depends on the physiological and morphological characteristics of the cultivars, thus causing cultivar differences in growth rate and final yield. A study was carried out in the Zvimba smallholder farming area of Zimbabwe, from November 2016 to February 2017, to investigate the performance of two rape (Brassica napus) cultivars under different nitrogen fertilizer management levels. An experiment was set up in a randomized complete block design, replicated three times, with two rape varieties, Hobson and English Giant, and 5 ammonium nitrate (AN) (34.5% N) fertilizer application rates (200 kg/ha, 300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha) as factors. Nitrogen fertilizer rates had a significant () effect on leaf length at 6 WAP and 7 WAP. Nitrogen fertilizer application levels had significant effects on both in-season and total fresh leaf yield. There were no varietal effects on the leaf length (), in-season yield and total leaf yield (), and there were also no variety ∗ fertilizer application level interaction effects on leaf length, in-season yield and total leaf yield (). From the results of this study, English Giant rape would maintain a longer leaf length than Hobson up to the end of the season, but the two cultivars have similar yield response to fertilizers’ application rate. Both the English Giant rape and Hobson rape cultivars can, therefore, be recommended for production in the Mhondoro smallholder farming area of Zimbabwe and other areas with similar climatic and soil characteristics.

1. Introduction

The current food production in Southern Africa and specifically in Zimbabwe is inadequate. Zimbabwe is currently importing much of its food, and most of the basic commodities and agriculture produce are imported and yet there are vast tracts of land in farms and small suitable pockets in the smallholder sector where food production can be practiced. There is need to find new efficient ways to meet these growing food needs without undermining our futures. With the population of 17 million, expected to double in 2050, the demand for food will more than double as a result of urbanization . There are, however, opportunities in increasing agricultural output and profitability through promoting the use of improved and adaptable hybrids and through the application of site-specific rates of nutrient sources. Such gains are likely to catalyze economic growth and subsequent improvement in livelihoods, food security, and employment and thus, meet the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to end poverty and hunger, among other objectives.

Vegetable production in Zimbabwe is a fast expanding enterprise because of the increasing demand resulting from the rapid increasing urban populations . Diversification in crop production by small holder farmers in Southern Africa has the capability of creating employment and increase in income. This, in turn, allows for the purchase of food to increase food security . Vegetables provide nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and roughage which are essential for a balanced diet . Brassica napus and other leaf vegetables are a profitable agricultural enterprise in both local and export markets .

Rape is one of the primary vegetable crops in Zimbabwe, grown for its leaves , which are rich in vitamin A, thiamine, and ascorbic acid. Rape seed oil is used for baking bread, illumination, lubrication, and the manufacture of soaps . The vegetable is grown all year round in Zimbabwe and is used as a source of income through the selling of the leaf produce .

Rape (Brassica napus) has a high demand for water due to extensive leaf area and thus needs regular intervals of irrigation. The critical period for rape is the stem-elongation stage when the crop builds the branching structure and strong stems, then produce high yields . Rape is sown for later transplanting at the age of 4–6 weeks after sowing, but the crop can also be grown in situ . The crop has a short life span as compared to other leafy vegetables, making it the most preferred leaf vegetable grown by smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe .

According to Musara and Chitamba , there are many rape cultivars available in Zimbabwe but the most popular ones are English Giant rape and Hobson cultivars. The characteristics of the two cultivars were summarized by Muchecheti et al. . The English Giant rape cultivar has dark green leaves and medium branches and has an immense growth rate. The English Giant rape has large broad leaves, with a yield potential of the cultivar of 25–40 tons/ha. The cultivar has large broad leaves and is normally preferred for its hardness. The cultivar cooks quicker than its competitor, Hobson. The English Giant rape germination takes 5–10 days and also takes 90 days to mature .

Another variety is Hobson rape, which is an improvement of the English Giant rape variety. This variety can be grown throughout the year and is reported to be a high yielding, with the potential of producing 25–40 tons/ha during its production period . The Hobson rape cultivar has a rapid growth and responds well to regular cuttings . The cultivar has pale green leaves and is a very palatable vegetable. It is an excellent variety with a wide sowing window.

Both Hobson and English Giant rape varieties are heavy feeders and respond well to applications of farm yard manure or mature compost, which should, however, be supplemented with either a compound or straight fertilizer . A recommended good practice is to collect soil samples from the land and send for analysis before planting in order to apply the exact amount of fertilizer and manure required by the crop . The condition of the crop will dictate whether further top dressings are needed .

The production of leaf vegetables all year round requires land use intensification, and the enterprise is only viable and profitable when nutrients from the soils which are depleted during crop production are replenished . Continuous cropping in most soils in sub-Saharan Africa has led to the deficiency in nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or both . The negative nutrient balances have been attributed by the removal of crop residues from the fields, coupled with lower rates of macronutrients applications compared to losses .

Rape grows on a wide range of soils, provided the inherent drainage and fertility problems associated with clays and sandy soils are alleviated . The improvement and maintenance of soil fertility is the major constraint to sustainable crop production in the communal smallholder farming areas of Zimbabwe. From a regional assessment carried out in the Chinamhora and Mhondoro communal areas of Zimbabwe, it was revealed that over 40% of the soils had phosphorus deficiency, while 82% had very low nitrogen . In addition, communal area fields show wide ranges in the values of soil properties , and this coupled with continuous cropping has led to the deficiency in nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or both . The implications are that sustainable crop yield can only be achieved through determination of site-specific variety and nutrient requirements instead of the generalized crop and fertilizer recommendations, an approach that is currently used in Zimbabwe.

The rate of fertilizer use by famers generally depends on various factors, including arable land size, household income, and distance to input purchasing point, fertilizer price, and transport cost . Findings by Murwira were that smallholder communal farmers in Zimbabwe applied an average of 18 kg/ha of Compound D (8:14:7) fertilizer, which was below the recommended rate of 300 kg/ha. Such application of lower than the required amount of fertilizer by the smallholder farmers could be attributable to the blanket recommendations that made by research and extension services on fertilizer application rates . The cost of fertilizer is prohibitively high, difficult to transport, and often in short supply, forcing many farmers to apply less than the recommended rates which eventually leads to low yields . Smallholder farmers usually apply these nutrients, not at site-specific rates but using the general recommendations from agronomic guidelines . Most countries in the region’s mineral recommendation rates are geared towards large-scale commercial farmers and thus overlooked the spectrum of farming objectives and returns and investment that typifies smallholder farming systems . Such imperfect fertilizer management has always resulted in the inconsistent and inappropriate application of fertilizer in agricultural production, with consequent environment risks .

The generally recommended fertilizer application rates for both English Giant rape and Hobson varieties 600 kg/ha Compound C fertilizer (6N 15P2O512 K2O) applied as basal before or during transplanting. Ammonium nitrate (AN) is applied as a topdressing at the rate of 200 kg/ha (NTS, 2010). Since the crop is harvested continuously, topdressing is usually split with the first application at three weeks after transplanting and every three weeks, thereafter, as long as picking is continuous .

If appropriate fertilizer inputs are combined with suitable varieties, larger increases in crop yields could be achieved on a sustainable basis. It is hypothesized in this study that the two rape varieties, English Giant and Hobson, have similar growth and yield response to varying AN fertilizer application levels. The results of the experiment are useful in minimizing the cost of fertilizers through application of site-specific requirements, instead of using the general recommendation in the general rape agronomy guide.

2. Methods

2.1. Description of the Study Area

The experiment was carried out from November 2016 to February 2017 in a communal area, in Ward 4 of Chegutu District in the Mashonaland West Province of Zimbabwe, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Ward 4 of Chegutu District is located 95 km southwest of the city of Harare, about 60 km southeast of Chegutu, at an altitude of 11280 m .

The experimental site lies in the natural Agro-Ecological Region 2b of Zimbabwe, where the climate is characterized by an annual rainfall that ranges from 750 to 1000 mm in the months of November to March and a mean annual rainfall of 819 mm . The study area has unreliable rainfall pattern which is not evenly distributed and hence is characterized by seasonal dry spells.

The area records minimum and maximum temperatures for the site area at 2°C and 32°C, respectively. The coldest and the hottest months for the area are July and October, respectively . The main agricultural system in the research area is mainly subsistence farming . Local people rely mainly on agriculture to make their living, cultivating subsistence crops chiefly maize, groundnuts, pulses, tobacco, and horticultural crops and keeping cattle. The soils are mainly granitic sandy soils. The predominant soils in the research area are granitic sand soils which are high in quartz and are light colored. The soils have a low inherent fertility. The soils have low available water-holding capacity and poor structure; this makes them to have high leaching losses as when compared to other soils .

2.2. Experimental Design

A two-factor experiment was set up in a randomized complete block design and was replicated 3 times. Factor one was rape variety (English Giant and Hobson varieties), and the second factor was ammonium nitrate (34.5% N) fertilizer application rate (200 kg/ha, 300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha). Each plot consisted of three 1 by 10 m beds (30 m2), and experimental assessments were done in the central bed (10 m2). The experimental treatments were allocated randomly to the treatment plots.

The seedlings for the experiment were raised from the seed that was purchased from the National Tested Seeds, a company that sells seed for horticultural crops in Zimbabwe. Basal compound (NPK) and topdressing fertilizer as well as lime were applied in accordance with the recommendations made when the soil was sent for analysis (Figure 1). The basal fertilizer used in the experiment was Compound C (6% N; 15% P; 12% K). The Compound C fertilizer was applied during transplanting at the rate of 600 kg/ha. Ammonium nitrate (AN) (34.5% N) was used as a nitrogen source, and it was applied as a top dressing. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was applied in two equal parts, with the first application done at 2 weeks after transplanting, while the second was done at 5 weeks after transplanting. The standard requirement was 200 kg AN/ha, as recommended by the result of soil analysis (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Site-specific results of soil analysis.

The experimental plots were hand weeded regularly. Insect pests were controlled to minimize economic losses. During the course of the experiment, the plots were watered 2 times a week at the rate of 30 mm, and this depended on the crop requirements and weather conditions.

2.3. Harvesting

Harvesting commenced on the first week after the second topdressing application. Two parameters, the longest leaf length and the fresh leaf mass, were measured at 5, 7, 9, and 11 weeks after transplanting (WAP). For each treatment, data were collected from 10 plants systematically selected from the central bed and tagged for repeated measurements. At every harvesting period, the longest leaf was measured, and the harvested leaves from the sampled 10 plants were weighed on a digital scale.

2.4. Data Analysis

The statistical package, GenStat Discovery 14th Edition, was used to analyze the data. All data were subjected to an analysis of variance (ANOVA), and treatment means were separated using the least significance difference (LSD) test at .

3. Results

There were significant () AN fertilizer application rate effects on the longest leaf length at 5, 7, 9, and 11 weeks after transplanting (Table 1). All the tested AN application rates (300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha) had a significant greater () longest leaf length than the standard (200 kg/ha) at all the assessment times (5, 7, and 9 WAP). Generally, longest leaf dimensions increased with the increasing levels of AN fertilizer from 200 to 400 kg/ha. There were no significant () longest leaf length differences between the 350 kg/ha and 400 kg/ha treated plants at 5, 7, and 11 WAP. The two rape varieties, Hobson and English Giant, had no significant () effect on the longest leaf length differences at 7 and 9 WAP. The English Giant rape had a significantly higher () longest leaf at 9 and 11 WAP. There were no significant variety × fertilizer application level interaction effects () on the longest leaf length at all the assessment times (5, 7, 9, and 11 WAP).

Table 1 Effect of variety and AN fertilizer application rate on rape longest leaf lengths at 6, 7, 8, and 9 weeks after transplanting.

The AN fertilizer application rate effects on the rape fresh leaf yield were significant () at all the assessment times (5, 7, 9, and 11 WAP) (Table 2). All the tested AN application levels (300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha) had a significantly greater () in-season fresh yield than standard treatment (200 kg/ha) at all the assessment times (5, 7, 9, and 11 WAP). Generally, in-season fresh leaf yield increased with the increasing levels of fertilizer from 200 to 400 kg AN/ha. In-season fresh leaf yield for 300 kg and 350 kg/ha AN-treated plants was statistically similar at 5, 7, and 9 WAP, but lower than that from the 400 kg/ha AN-treated plants. The 200 kg/ha, 300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha AN/ha treated plants had statistically similar in-season fresh leaf yield at 11 WAP.

Table 2 Effect of variety and AN fertilizer application rape fresh leaf yield (g/plant) at 6, 7, 8, and 9 weeks after planting.

There were no significant () in-season fresh leaf mass differences between the two rape varieties, Hobson and English Giant, and there were also no significance () on the variety x fertilizer level interaction effect on in-season fresh leaf yield all the assessment times (5, 7, 9, and 11 WAP).

There was a significance () of AN fertilizer application rate effects on the total rape fresh leaf yield (Figure 2). All the AN application rates (200 kg/ha, 300 kg/ha, 350 kg/ha, and 400 kg/ha) had a significant greater () total fresh yield than the negative control treatment (0 g Nm−2). Total fresh leaf yield for 300 kg/ha and 350 kg/ha AN-treated plants had statistically similar fresh leaf yield with the standard (200 kg/ha) (Lsd = 2.643), while fresh leaf yield from the 400 kg/ha AN-treated plants was significantly greater than all the tested AN fertilizer rates (Lsd = 2.646). There were no significant () total fresh leaf mass differences between the two rape varieties, Hobson and English Giant, and there were also no variety x fertilizer level interaction effects on total fresh leaf yield.

Figure 2 Average yield (t/ha) for the different fertilizer application levels.

4. Discussion

Rape growth increased as levels of increased nitrogen concentration was increasing with the increase in the nitrogen rate from 0 to 400 kg/ha in spite of the time of application showing that there are additional yield benefits that could be realized if higher levels of N are applied to both varieties. According to Wang and Li , vegetable yields are increased continuously to a certain threshold rate, and any excess input of fertilizer more or less reduced plant growth, leading to yield decline harvests. As argued by Kant et al. , the increases in rape leaf yield with nitrogen availability showed that nitrogen favoured more vegetative growth producing plants with a higher leaf count and subsequently higher total green leaf area per plant. Low nitrogen fertilizer of ammonium nitrate treatments might have negatively affected the photosynthesis process leading to reduced growth rate and consequently yield , while high rate of nitrogen increasing leaf area development increases overall crop assimilation . while high rate of nitrogen increasing leaf area development increases overall crop assimilation According to Öztürk , ammonium nitrate at optimal rates of 100 to 150 kg/ha was more appropriate on rape than comparative rates using ammonium sulphate and urea, thus highlighting the practical importance of adequate fertilizer application and even suitable source in both seed and leaf yield. However, the accumulation of nitrates is one of the major disadvantages of high-level fertilizer application in rape . However, NO3–N concentration increased with supply under drought but was unaffected by supply under irrigation , making the practice of optimum water application a necessity.

The Giant rape and Hobson rape had similar leaf length response to AN application rate under the subtropical Zvimba District conditions. As argued by Bacha et al. , the genotype × environment × E interaction effects make it difficult to select the best performing as well as the most stable genotypes, and so, its efficient interpretation is an important issue in plant improvement. This similarity of the two rape cultivars to application rate could be an indication of similarity in the breeding history, may be with a common parentage.

The general decline trend in rape leaf yield in all treatments from the first to the last harvest may be attributed by changes in B napus developmental stages and declining in nutrient supply . The general yield potential of both varieties is 24–40 tons/ha (National Tested Seeds, Zimbabwe). However, the average yield produced from the research was 19.3 tons/ha far below the expected yield probably to the excessiveness of 920 mm of rainfall and the above 22°C received during the nine weeks of the experiment. The excessive rains received could have caused the leaching of nitrogen fertilizers; as a result, this reduced the yield of rape .

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1. Conclusion

The results showed that the highest vegetative growth rates, as measured by the longest leaf, as well as the highest fresh leaf yield were obtained from the 400 kg/ha AN-treated plots. This drives home the point that the higher growth rate and yield are obtained when nitrogen fertilizer is applied in large quantities. Also, the results showed no cultivar effect on growth and yield of rape vegetable. However, English Giant rape growth rate started on higher threshold levels and then subsequently declined as the harvest progressed, whereas Hobson rape showed the opposite results, it started at low levels and then increased as the harvesting progressed.

5.2. Recommendations

It is recommended that farmers should be encouraged to grow either of the two varieties as they showed that they have no effect on the growth rate and yield of rape. Both varieties indicated that they perform very well under high nitrogen levels. It also recommended that further research should be done to ascertain the hazards of nitrates in vegetables to human health and their effect to the environment. Also, another research to assess the chemical content and the taste of rape vegetables after application of higher nitrogen fertilizer levels needs to be investigated.

Data Availability

The raw and processed data used to support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interests regarding the publication of this paper.

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How to Plant Rapeseed

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The rapeseed plant (Brassica napu) is a flowering annual related to mustard, broccoli and cabbage. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall, branching out from a central stem and bearing yellow flowers with four petals each. Its seeds are harvested as a source of oil. Depending on the variety, rapeseed oil is used in industrial applications or sold as canola oil, an edible oil commonly available in grocery stores. Rapeseed also is frequently used as a cover crop and green manure in fall and winter.

Step 1

Plant rapeseed in a site that has moist, fertile soil and is in full sun. The soil needs to be well-draining. Prepare the soil in early spring or late fall by hoeing or discing with a garden tractor to break up the surface.

Step 2

Incorporate the appropriate fertilizer to areas for rapeseed plantings in the amounts needed to adjust any soil deficiencies. Rapeseed typically responds well to nitrogen fertilizers. Add the herbicide trifluralin at 1 lb. per acre for weed control.

Step 3

Broadcast rapeseed, either by hand or mechanically, at a ratio of 4 to 6 lbs. of seed per acre. Cover the rapeseed with 1 to 1-1/2 inches of soil.

Step 4

Water rape seed immediately after planting and once a month during the growing season to keep the soil moist. Reduce watering during significant rainfall and increase if a dry spell occurs.

Step 5

Harvest the dried and swollen seed pods from August and cull the seeds from the pods for processing.

Rapeseed (colza)

Description

Rapeseed, Brassica napus, is an herbaceous annual or biennial member of the family Brassicaceae primarily grown for the oil which can be extracted from its seeds. The rapeseed plant has several erect, branched stems originating from a single base, the stems are purple in color towards the base. The leaves of the plant are bluish-green and mostly smooth. The basal leaves are stalked whereas the highest leaves grow straight off of the stem. The plant produces pale to bright yellow flowers which are 11–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in) in diameter, and after pollination the plant develops pods containing a single row of seeds. Each pod can contain 20–40 dark brown to black seeds. The rapeseed plant can reach 1.0–2.5 m (3.3–8.2 ft) and is grown as an annual, harvested after one growing season. Rapeseed may also be referred to as colza, oilseed rape, canola, swede rape or fodder rape and is believed to originate from the Mediterranean.
Rapeseed fields
Rapeseed
Flowers and fruit of rapeseed
Flowers
Flower close-up
Rapeseed flowers
Fruits of rapeseed
Flowers and seed pods
Rapeseed field
Seeds ‹ ×

Uses

The seeds of the plant are used to extract rapeseed oil which can be used as a cooking oil or in the production of margarine. Some recently developed cultivars have a high erucic acid content which is extracted for the production of industrial oil. Rapeseed is also grown as fodder for livestock.

Propagation

Basic requirements Rapeseed is adapted to grow in cool, moist climates, requiring a temperature range of 2–10°C (35.6–56°F), although temperatures closer to 10°C (56°F) promote the most rapid growth. As a result, rapeseed is grown as a cool season crop in sub-tropical regions and a winter crop in more temperate areas. Rapeseed can be grown on a variety of soil types but medium textured, well-draining soils work best. Rapeseed should be grown in soil with a pH between 5.5 and 8.3. Rapeseed should not be grown in soil in which other brassicas have been grown within the past 3–4 years. Propagation Rapeseed in almost always propagated from seed which is sown in prepared fields by drilling in rows. Seeds are sown shallowly as the seeds are very small and seed should be sown at a depth of 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in). Spring crops of rapeseed should be drilled in rows 18–23 cm (7–9 in) apart, whereas winter crops require more space and should be drilled in rows approximately 40 cm (16 in) apart. General care and maintenance It is important to control weed growth in rapeseed fields as they can have a significant impact on the growth and productivity of the crop. Good preparation of the seedbed helps to limit weed growth. This is achieved by tilling the soil in the fall prior to planting, followed by shallow cultivation just prior to seeding. Rapeseed has a high nutrient requirement and a soil test should be carried out prior to planting in order to prevent nutrient deficiencies from occurring. fertilizers are most successfully applied to the side of the seed furrows to prevent damage to the plants. Nitrogen fertilizer should be applied at a basic rate of 50–60 kg per hectare for spring planted rapeseed and 70 kg per hectare for winter crops. Fertilizer is commonly applied at time of sowing. in addition to nitrogen, rapeseed may also require the addition of phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and magnesium to the soil. The rate of application of these nutrients should be determined by a soil test. Harvesting Rapeseed is a fast-ripening plant and is ready for harvest when the seeds have turned from green to black in color. Rapeseed is mechanically harvested by combine or by swathing. in some countries, such as China, the crop is cut by hand.

CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2011). Brassica napus var. napus (rape) datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/10098. . Paid subscription required. Herbek, J. (2012). Canola. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Available at: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CCD/introsheets/canola.pdf. . Free to access. Kandel, H. & Knodel, J. J. (2011). Canola production field guide. North Dakota State Extension Service. Available at: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extensionentomology/recent-publications-main/publications/A-1280-canola-production-field-guide. . Free to access. Rimmer, S. R., Shattuck, V. I. Buchwaldt, L. (Eds) (2007). Compendium of Brassica Diseases. American Phytopathological Society Press. Available at: http://www.apsnet.org/apsstore/shopapspress/Pages/42848.aspx. Available for purchase from APS Press.

Rapeseed, or oilseed rape as it is often known, is the bright yellow crop that you see in the fields in the run up to summer, a sure sign that winter is almost behind us. Rapeseed makes a variety of products, including edible vegetable oils for cooking, animal feed and even biodiesel.

How is it made?

Rapeseed oil is made by pressing the seeds from the plant, oilseed rape. Whizz Middleton, an arable farmer who farms wheat, oilseed rape and legumes on the rolling hills of Barton Hills in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire talks us through the process of making rapeseed oil.

Sowing

  1. The seeds are sown in August – we direct drill ours straight into the stubble from the harvest just done.
  2. The growing season is from August through to July. During this period we put fertiliser on to help it grow and to protect it from diseases and weeds. Pigeons, slugs and flea beetle can pose a serious problem, and so we must manage this.
  3. Depending on the season and weather, the beautiful yellow flowers tend to blossom in April and May.

Harvest

  1. The crop is then harvested in mid-July through to early August when the crop is dry and the pods are brittle.
  2. The crop produces tiny black seeds that are then dried, if necessary, in the grain dryer, while weed seeds are dressed out through sieves. On our farm, we then keep it in the grain store until it is either sold into the general market or we use it for Mrs. Middleton’s oil.

Pictured above: Whizz Middleton shows us how these tiny black seeds are made into rapeseed oil

Processing

  1. The seeds are sent to the processor for the following where they are crushed very slowly and carefully at a low temperature. This helps it keep its golden colour and distinctive flavour.
  2. After it has settled, it is gently filtered. This oil is either bottled as natural oil or stored for use with other products. Some is flavoured with essential oils to produce flavoured oils and some is used as a vital ingredient in mayonnaise or salad dressings.

Did you know?

  • Oilseed rape is worth £643 million to the UK economy.
  • The UK produces 2.01bn tonnes of oilseed rape every year.
  • There are 609,000 hectares of oilseed rape in the UK, and the average yield is 3.4 tonnes per hectare.
  • Rapeseed oil is a high-quality oil with a shelf life of approximately 12 – 18 months.
  • The bi-product of the oil is rape meal, which is a nutritious dry pellet or flake and is used for feeding livestock.
  • Cold-pressed rapeseed oil contains around one third of the saturated fats of olive oil and is naturally rich in omega oils, vitamin E and antioxidants.

Rape, (Brassica napus, variety napus), also called rapeseed or colza, plant of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), grown for its seeds, which yield canola, or rapeseed, oil. Canola oil is variously used in cooking, as an ingredient in soap and margarine, and as a lamp fuel (colza oil). The esterified form of the oil is used as a lubricant for jet engines and can be made into biodiesel. The seeds are also used as bird feed, and the seed residue after oil extraction is used for fodder. The plant can be grown as a cover crop and green manure.

rapeRape (Brassica napus, variety napus). Rape, like most other members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), has flowers with four petals arranged like a cross.Ingmar Holmasen

Rape is an annual plant, 30 cm (1 foot) or more tall, with a long, usually thin taproot. Its leaves are smooth, bluish green, and deeply scalloped, and the bases of the upper leaves clasp the stem. Rape bears four-petaled yellow flowers in spikes. Each elongated round pod has a short beak and contains many seeds.

agricultural field of rape plantsSolitary tree in an agricultural field of rape (Brassica napus, variety napus), the source of rapeseed, or canola, oil. AdstockRF

Rapeseed

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How British Farmers Are Making Rapeseed (Canola) Posh And Flavorful

Algy Garrod’s rapeseed in bloom in Norfolk, England. Anne Bramley for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anne Bramley for NPR

Algy Garrod’s rapeseed in bloom in Norfolk, England.

Anne Bramley for NPR

Rapeseed, an oilseed known in North America as canola, has a mild reputation as a cooking oil. Maybe that’s because the version that most consumers know is a pale, neutral-flavored oil used for frying and baking.

But in the U.K., a more colorful and flavorful version has made its way onto store shelves: cold-pressed rapeseed that goes for £5-7 per 500 milliliters (about $9-12 for 17 fluid ounces).

This vibrant, mustard-colored oil goes by names like Farrington’s Mellow Yellow, Sussex Gold and Summer Harvest. Some products are touted as “extra virgin,” and there’s a Cotswold Gold rapeseed infused with white truffle. You’ll find them at London’s Fortnum and Mason food hall. Even chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have embraced the “national” oil, which is grown, processed and marketed by British farmers.

Third-generation farmer Algy Garrod uses it on his popcorn, to give it “a nice, creamy flavor,” he explains while driving me through his bright yellow fields in Norfolk, in the east of England. In late April, they’re in full bloom.

Cold-pressed British rapeseed oil with asparagus. Anne Bramley hide caption

toggle caption Anne Bramley

Cold-pressed British rapeseed oil with asparagus.

Anne Bramley

After harvest, all that rapeseed will be transformed into a golden, nutty oil a few miles away at Crush Foods, the family business started by Brendan Playford and his father about five years ago. They bottled their first cold-pressed oil at the kitchen table. Now, with Playford’s university friend, Stephen Newham, Crush is run from the environmentally-minded Salle Park Estate.

But long before rapeseed became a cooking oil, it was an industrial oil used as a lubricant in Victorian steam engines and World War II ships. Back in those days, it wasn’t even edible because it contained such high levels of erucic acid, which is toxic, and glucosinalates. Rapeseed, after all, is a brassica – a genus of plants that includes Brussels sprouts, mustard and broccoli – and it had a particularly high quantity of glucosinalates, which impart a flavor often described as “cabbagey,” according to Paul Williams, a plant pathologist at the University of Wisconsin.

In the 1970s, Canadian scientists brought these levels of erucic acid and glucosinalates almost to zero through plant breeding. And they were so proud of their creation, which also had the lowest level of saturated fat (7 percent) of any vegetable oil, they gave it a new name: canola, a contraction of Canada and ola, meaning oil.

This type of “double low” rapeseed is what we eat on both sides of the Atlantic, explains University of East Anglia’s crop geneticist Rachel Wells.

But there are three key differences. The Europeans never adopted the name canola. And once genetically modified, herbicide resistant canola seeds were developed in 1995, North American farmers started planting mostly those, while European farmers stuck to the non-GMO rapeseed. (Today, 80-90 percent of the canola sold in the U.S. is GMO, while GMO rapeseed is banned across the European Union.)

Another key distinction of the artisanal — and more flavorful — rapeseed now available in the U.K. is how it’s processed.

According to Playford of Crush in Norfolk, most rapeseed oil maintains its consistency by being processed and filtered in an intensive way that erases the muddled flavors resulting from seeds sourced from a range of different farmers. This is also true for the pale oil that dominates the American canola market.

But Crush and many other companies springing up around the U.K. and in other parts of Europe are cold pressing the seeds, just as with a high-quality olive oil. “When you cold press all you’re doing is squeezing the oil out of the seeds very slowly at a temperature of no more than 40 degrees Celsius ,” says Playford. “That keeps all the vitamin E, all of the flavor, every constituent compound that is in the oil completely intact.”

And whether farmers are planting GMO or non-GMO rapeseed, most choose the “double low” varities that produce the greatest yield. But those aren’t necessarily the ones that will create the best-tasting oils.

Crush’s Playford and Newham think like single-malt whisky distillers and pay a premium to farmer Algy Garrod to get a rapeseed variety with a unique and appealing taste. Varieties “can range from tasting like fish to tasting like grass to tasting like cabbage,” Playford tells The Salt.

“It’s taken a lot a lot of time and research to find a seed variety that tastes like ours does,” adds Newham. “We pride ourselves on the fact that it’s a single variety.” That allows Crush to keep a more consistent taste than if they would have to rely on a blend. And it keeps home cooks happy as well as the chefs who have to turn out hundreds of plates all tasting the same.

Many feel it keeps the British farm economy happy as well. In an era of local food love, rapeseed is celebrated as the new “British olive oil.”

With the U.K. general election just days away, the National Farmers Union has created the “Great British Food Gets My Vote” campaign to encourage a commitment to domestic products. British culinary rapeseed oils provide a domestic alternative to imported olive oils from Italy, Greece and Spain.

The high-end rapeseed oils “are very important to farmers,” says Guy Gagan from the NFU. “It’s a local product, more or less in every town in England. It’s a way for farmers to add value to their crops, so it’s important to buy them rather than importing from outside the U.K.”

Anne Bramley is the author of Eat Feed Autumn Winter and the host of the Eat Feed podcast. Follow her on Twitter @eatfeed.

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