Top Crop Manager

Multitasking canola for California causes

Canola is more than just an oilseed crop to many in California, especially to those involved in a USDA research study to determine canola's suitability as a soil remediator, a feedstock for biodiesel and as cattle feed, all in one.

December 4, 2008  By Associated Press/Yahoo News

December 3, 2008 

Five Points, CA –A hardy but pedestrian plant is doing triple duty in California's agricultural heartland.

Farmers, water managers and agriculture researchers are closely watching an experiment using canola plants to absorb the salt from soil and water. The seeds are then crushed to extract oil for blending into environmentally friendly biodiesel.


If that were the end of the story, it would be just another case of farmers turning food into fuel. Yet at John Diener's Red Rock Ranch in this town 100 kilometres southwest of Fresno, the selenium-rich canola byproduct has an even higher calling: cattle feed naturally infused with an essential micro-nutrient.

"It's all part of what we have to try to do here to turn a profit," said Diener, who also grows almonds, tomatoes, grapes and corn on 5000 acres.

In a trial, Diener's canola meal — grown on once-fallow land — was fed to dairy cows on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, where selenium does not occur naturally and has to be added to food rations.

If the USDA's experiment is successful, officials say they will try to persuade other farmers in the region to start planting canola and other selenium-tolerant plants.

"These challenges force farmers to become smarter, and that's where science comes in," said Gary Banuelos of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research station in Parlier, who manages test plots at Diener's ranch.

There is urgency to the effort because the ongoing drought and court-ordered water rationing to protect threatened fish species means farmers who have relied for decades on state and federal water deliveries via canals are being forced to turn to groundwater pumping.

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