- Canola Research: Historical and Recent Aspects
Canola, previously known as rapeseed, is Canada’s Cinderella crop that is now ranked among the top three oilseeds worldwide. The rst recorded Canadian production of rapeseed was in Saskatchewan in the 1930s when an immigrant farmer from Poland, Mr Fred Solvoniuk, planted seeds sent to him by a Polish friend. The seeds adapted well to the soil conditions, and were later shown to be from Brassica campestris, now referred to as B. rapa L. species. The outbreak of the Second World War and the subsequent blockade of European and Asian sources of rapeseed oil made the commercial production of rapeseed a high priority by the Canadian government. The reason for this was because rapeseed oil was an excellent lubricating oil for marine engines. Under extreme heat and steam, rapeseed oil adhered to metal surfaces better than any other source of oil. In 1942, the Head of the Forage Crop Division of Canada Department of Agriculture was given the mandate for production in Canada. To relieve the desperate shortage of rapeseed oil, the total 1942 crop of 2600 lb or 42 bushels of B. napus was needed for planting in 1943. A further 41,000 lb of Argentine type seeds, B. napus, was purchased from US seed companies. The earlier Polish type (B. campestris now B. rapa) and the Argentine type (B. napus) both adapted extremely well to the Canadian prairies and grew fast with excellent yields. With a reduced demand for marine lubricants and the move to diesel engines, however, the Canadian rapeseed acreage dropped precipitously from 80,000 acres in 1948 to barely 400 acres in 1950. After the Second World War, alternative markets were sought for rapeseed including food. However, because of its green colour, sharp taste and high acid content, rapeseed had limited use as a food oil. It was not until the late 1950s that Baldur Stefannson at the University of Manitoba and Keith Downey in Saskatoon carried out their ground-breaking breeding research on rapeseed. As a young researcher, who had barely heard of rapeseed, I arrived in Winnipeg in 1968 to take up a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Manitoba. This was followed shortly afterwards by the arrival of Bruce McDonald. We were both brought to the University of Manitoba by the late Lewis Lloyd, the rst dean of the Faculty of Human Ecology, who certainly changed the course of my professional life. Being part of the development of canola and seeing it blossom into a major world crop was a unique opportunity not fully appreciated until many years later.