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Rapeseed (Brassica napus): The Canola Plant

by Lynette Abbott
Published: Last Updated on
rapeseed

Rapeseed, also known as brassica napus, is a flowering plant in the mustard family that is grown for its oil-rich seeds. The seeds are crushed to produce rapeseed oil, which is a popular cooking oil in many parts of the world. Rapeseed oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making it a healthy choice for cooking and baking.

In addition to its use as an edible oil, rapeseed oil is also used in a variety of industrial applications, including the production of biodiesel and the manufacture of lubricants and plastics. Rapeseed is a major crop in many countries, including China, Canada, and Europe.

Etymology

The word “rapeseed” is derived from the Latin word “rapum,” which means turnip. Rapeseed is related to the turnip and belongs to the mustard family, which includes other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The scientific name for rapeseed, brassica napus, is a combination of the Latin words “brassica,” which means cabbage, and “napus,” which means turnip.

Rapeseed is sometimes referred to as “canola,” which is a shortened form of “Canadian oil, low acid.” Canola is a type of rapeseed that has been specifically developed to have low levels of erucic acid, a fatty acid that is present in high levels in traditional rapeseed varieties and can have negative effects on human health. Canola is commonly used for cooking and is widely grown in Canada and other countries around the world.

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Global statistics about rapeseed

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global production of rapeseed has increased significantly over the past few decades. In 2019, the world’s total production of rapeseed was around 73 million metric tons, with the majority of it coming from China, India, and the European Union.

In terms of land area, rapeseed is a relatively small crop compared to other major oilseeds like soybeans and palm. According to the FAO, in 2019, the total global area planted with rapeseed was around 20 million hectares, which is a small fraction of the total area of land used for agriculture.

Global statistics about rapeseed

Further, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the top 10 countries in terms of rapeseed production from 2000-2019 were:

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  • China
  • India
  • European Union
  • Canada
  • Russia
  • United States
  • Ukraine
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Pakistan

These countries account for a large portion of the global production of rapeseed, with China being the top producer by far. It’s worth noting that the rankings of these countries may vary slightly from year to year.

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Botanical classification of rapeseed

Rapeseed is a biennial plant, which means that it takes two years to complete its life cycle. The botanical classification of rapeseed, or brassica napus, is as follows:

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  • Kingdom: Plantae (plants)
  • Division: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
  • Class: Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons)
  • Order: Brassicales
  • Family: Brassicaceae (mustard family)
  • Genus: Brassica
  • Species: B. napus

Botanical description of rapeseed

Rapeseed, also known as brassica napus, is a plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae) that is grown for its oil-rich seeds. It is a biennial plant, which means that it takes two years to complete its life cycle. In the first year, the plant grows a rosette of leaves near the ground and stores energy in its roots. In the second year, it produces flowers and seeds, and then dies. Rapeseed is widely cultivated in many parts of the world, including China, Canada, and Europe.

Botanical description of rapeseed

The rapeseed is an annual to biannual plant that typically grows to a height of about 2-3 feet. It has a woody stem that is covered with hairy, oblong leaves that are about 3-5 inches long. The leaves are dark green in color and have a waxy texture. The plant produces small, yellow or white flowers that are about 1-2 inches in diameter. The flowers are followed by small, green pods that contain the seeds.

The seeds of the rapeseed plant are the main product of the plant, and they are used to produce rapeseed oil, which is a popular cooking oil in many parts of the world. Rapeseed oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making it a healthy choice for cooking and baking. In addition to its use as an edible oil, rapeseed oil is also used in a variety of industrial applications, including the production of biodiesel and the manufacture of lubricants and plastics.

Further, Rapeseed plants have a shallow root system that is characterized by a taproot, which is the main root that grows straight down into the soil, and lateral roots, which grow out from the taproot. The roots are responsible for anchoring the plant in the soil and absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.

History of Rapeseed

The origin of rapeseed can be traced back to the Mediterranean region, where it is thought to have evolved from wild brassica species. The first recorded use of rapeseed as a source of oil dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who used it for cooking, lighting, and lubrication.

Rapeseed was also used as a source of food for humans and livestock, and it was used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. In the Middle Ages, rapeseed was widely cultivated in Europe, where it was used to produce oil for cooking and lighting.

The cultivation of rapeseed for oil production expanded significantly in the 20th century, and it became an important crop in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe. The domestication of rapeseed involved the selection and breeding of plants with the most desirable characteristics, such as high oil content and disease resistance. This process led to the development of modern cultivars of rapeseed that are better suited for commercial production.

Genetics of rapeseed

Rapeseed is an allotetraploid species, which means that it has four sets of chromosomes, one inherited from each parent. The chromosome number of rapeseed is 2n = 4x = 38 (AACC), which means that it has 38 chromosomes in each of its cells.

Genetics of canola

The genome size of rapeseed is approximately 647 megabases (Mb), which is relatively large compared to other plant species. The genome of rapeseed has been sequenced and analyzed, and this has provided valuable insights into the genetics and genomics of the species.

Rapeseed has a number of important genetic ancestors, including wild brassica species, such as brassica rapa, which is the closest relative of rapeseed. Rapeseed has also been hybridized with other brassica species, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale, to produce new cultivars with improved traits.

There have been several important achievements in the genetics and genomics of rapeseed, including the sequencing of the rapeseed genome and the identification of genes involved in important traits, such as oil content and disease resistance. These achievements have helped to improve our understanding of the genetics and genomics of rapeseed and have led to the development of improved cultivars of the species.

Cultivation and production technology of rapeseed

Rapeseed is a popular oilseed crop because it has a high oil content (around 40%), and the oil produced from it is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered to be healthy fats. Rapeseed (Brassica napus) is also known as canola in some parts of the world. Here is a general overview of the cultivation and production technology of rapeseed:

1. Land preparation: Rapeseed can be grown in a wide range of soil types, but it prefers well-drained, loamy soils with a pH range of 6.0-7.0. Before planting, the field should be plowed and harrowed to create a seedbed with a fine, even seedbed. This can be done with a tractor or by hand.

2. Seed rate: The seed rate for rapeseed depends on the seed size, seed germination percentage, and the desired plant population. A seed rate of 3-4 kg/ha is recommended for small seed size, while a seed rate of 4-5 kg/ha is recommended for large seed size.

Cultivation and production technology of rapeseed

3. Sowing: Rapeseed can be sown either by direct seeding or transplanting. Direct seeding is the most common method of planting rapeseed. It is best to sow the seeds in well-prepared, moist soil. The optimal sowing time for rapeseed is September to October in most parts of India. The seeds should be sown at a depth of 1-2 cm and spaced 15-20 cm apart in rows that are spaced 40-45 cm apart.

4. Irrigation: Rapeseed requires regular irrigation during the growing season. The frequency of irrigation depends on the soil type, weather conditions, and the stage of crop growth. In general, rapeseed requires one to two irrigations per week during the vegetative stage and two to three irrigations per week during the flowering and fruiting stages. The amount of water applied should be sufficient to meet the crop’s water requirements and avoid water stress.

5. Fertilizer application: Rapeseed requires a balanced supply of nutrients for optimal growth and development. The recommended fertilizers for rapeseed include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The recommended fertilizer rate for rapeseed is 60-80 kg/ha of nitrogen, 30-40 kg/ha of phosphorus, and 40-60 kg/ha of potassium. The fertilizers should be applied in two or three splits, depending on the soil type and the crop’s nutrient requirements.

6. Weeding: Weeds can compete with the crops for water, nutrients, and sunlight, leading to reduced crop yield. Therefore, it is important to control weeds in rapeseed fields. Mechanical weed control methods such as hand weeding, hoeing, and intercultural operations can be used to control weeds. Chemical weed control methods such as herbicides can also be used to control weeds. The choice of weed control method will depend on the type and density of weeds present in the field.

7. Harvesting: Rapeseed is ready for harvest when the pods turn yellow and the seeds inside the pods are mature. The optimal time for harvesting rapeseed is when the moisture content of the seeds is less than 10%. Rapeseed can be harvested by hand or with the help of a combine harvester. The harvested seeds should be dried to a moisture content of 10% or less before storage.

Diseases, pests, and weeds of Rapeseed

Rapeseed plants are susceptible to a range of diseases, pests, and weeds that can affect their growth and yield.

Diseases: Rapeseed plants can be affected by a number of fungal and bacterial diseases, including blackleg, alternaria blight, clubroot, sclerotinia stem rot, leaf spot, fusarium wilt, and powdery mildew. These diseases can cause symptoms such as wilting, leaf yellowing, leaf spotting, and stunted growth, and can lead to reduced yield.

Diseases, pests, and weeds

Pests: Rapeseed plants can be damaged by a variety of insects, including cutworms, flea beetles, aphids, slugs, and diamondback moths. These pests can cause damage to the leaves and stems of the plant, leading to reduced growth and yield.

Weeds: Rapeseed plants can be outcompeted by weeds, which can reduce growth and yield by taking up space, water, and nutrients from the soil. Common weeds found in rapeseed fields include grasses, broadleaf weeds, and sedges. Weeds can be controlled through the use of herbicides or cultural practices such as crop rotation and hand weeding.

Rapeseed breeding and biotechnology

Rapeseed breeding is the process of developing new varieties of rapeseed (also known as canola) through selective breeding and genetic modification. The goal of rapeseed breeding is to improve the yield, quality, and adaptability of the plant, as well as to introduce new traits such as resistance to diseases and pests.

Rapeseed breeding can be done through traditional methods, such as crossbreeding different varieties of rapeseed to produce offspring with desired traits, or through biotechnology methods, such as genetic engineering. Genetic engineering involves the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology techniques, and can be used to introduce specific traits into a plant.

There have been several achievements in the field of rapeseed breeding and biotechnology. For example, research has shown that the use of biotechnology techniques can be an effective way to introduce new traits into rapeseed plants, such as increased resistance to pests and diseases. In addition, the development of genetically modified (GM) rapeseed varieties with enhanced oil content and improved oil quality has been reported.

The use of biotechnology in rapeseed breeding has been the subject of some controversy, with concerns raised about the potential risks and impacts on the environment and human health. However, many scientists believe that biotechnology has the potential to provide significant benefits in the field of agriculture, including increased crop yields, improved crop quality, and reduced reliance on chemical pesticides.

Rapeseed breeding and biotechnology

Canola: Canola is a type of rapeseed that has been developed through breeding to have a lower level of erucic acid in the oil and a higher level of oleic acid. Canola was originally developed in the 1970s by researchers in Canada, who were looking for ways to make rapeseed oil more suitable for human consumption.

Rapeseed oil had traditionally been used in industrial applications, but it was not considered safe for human consumption due to its high levels of erucic acid, which has been linked to heart problems in animals. To make the oil more suitable for human consumption, researchers began breeding low-erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR) varieties.

In the 1970s, researchers at the University of Manitoba and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada developed a variety of rapeseed called “LEAR” (low-erucic acid rapeseed) that had a significantly lower level of erucic acid than traditional rapeseed varieties.

In the 1980s, the Canadian government established a set of standards for LEAR oil, which included a maximum level of 2% erucic acid and a minimum level of 60% oleic acid. Oils that met these standards could be labeled as “canola,” and the term “canola” was officially registered in Canada in 1986.

Canola is grown in many countries around the world, including Canada, the United States, Australia, and China. It is a major oilseed crop, with global production totaling over 60 million metric tons in 2020. Canola is grown primarily for its oil-rich seeds, which are harvested and processed to produce canola oil and meal.

By-products of rapeseed

Rapeseed (also known as Canola) is a type of oilseed that is grown for its seeds, which are used to produce vegetable oil and animal feed. There are many by-products of the rapeseed industry, including:

1. Rapeseed meal: This is the by-product of oil extraction from rapeseed and is used as animal feed. It is high in protein and is a good source of essential amino acids for livestock.

2. Rapeseed oil: This is the main product of the rapeseed industry and is used in a variety of applications, including cooking, baking, and as a base for other products such as margarine and biodiesel. It is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making it a healthier choice compared to some other types of oil.

3. Rapeseed hulls: These are the outer shells of the rapeseed and are used as animal feed or as a fuel source.

4. Rapeseed oilcake: This is a by-product of oil extraction that is used as animal feed. It is high in protein and fiber and is a good source of essential amino acids for livestock.

Advantages and benefits of rapeseed

Rapeseed oil is a vegetable oil that is derived from the seeds of the rapeseed plant. It is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and is considered to be a healthier alternative to some other types of oil.

Health

Here are some potential health advantages and benefits of rapeseed oil:

1. Heart health: Rapeseed oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which are known to be beneficial for heart health. Some studies have shown that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats, such as those found in rapeseed oil, can help to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

health advantages and benefits of rapeseed oil

2. Blood pressure: Rapeseed oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure.

3. Diabetes: Some studies have suggested that consuming rapeseed oil may help to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

4. Weight management: Rapeseed oil is low in saturated fats and is high in monounsaturated fats, which may make it a good choice for weight management. Some studies have shown that diets high in monounsaturated fats may help with weight loss and weight maintenance.

5. Inflammation: Rapeseed oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies have shown that consuming foods high in omega-3s may help to reduce inflammation in the body.

6. Cognitive function: Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in rapeseed oil, have been shown to have potential benefits for cognitive function and brain health.

7. Cancer prevention: Some studies have suggested that rapeseed oil may have potential cancer-preventive properties. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Environmental

The importance of environmental advantages and benefits lies in the potential to promote sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices in the agriculture and energy sectors. Here are some potential environmental advantages and benefits of the rapeseed industry:

1. Biodiversity: Rapeseed is a rotation crop, meaning it is often grown in rotation with other crops. This can help to maintain soil health and promote biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

2. Soil health: Rapeseed is a nitrogen-fixing crop, meaning it can help to improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil. This can help to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and improve soil health.

3. Pest management: Rapeseed is resistant to many pests, meaning it may require fewer pesticides compared to other crops. This can help to reduce the environmental impact of pest management practices.

4. Water conservation: Rapeseed is a drought-tolerant crop, meaning it requires less water compared to some other crops. This can help to reduce water usage and conserve water resources.

5. Carbon sequestration: Rapeseed is a carbon-neutral crop, meaning it absorbs an amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that is equal to the amount emitted during its production and processing. This can help to offset carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

6. Renewable energy: Rapeseed oil can be used to produce biodiesel, which is a renewable fuel source that can be used to power vehicles and machinery.

7. Waste reduction: By-products of the rapeseed industry, such as rapeseed meal, can be used as animal feed, reducing waste and increasing the efficiency of the food production system.

Disadvantages of Rapeseed

Rapeseed has some potential side effects and disadvantages:

1. Allergies: Some people may be allergic to rapeseed or products made from rapeseed, such as cooking oil or animal feed. Symptoms of a rapeseed allergy can include skin rash, hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

Disadvantages

2. Pesticide exposure: Rapeseed is sometimes treated with pesticides to protect against pests and diseases. There is a potential for exposure to these pesticides through the consumption of rapeseed products or through the environment.

3. Land use: The cultivation of rapeseed can require large amounts of land, potentially leading to land use conflicts and environmental impacts such as habitat destruction.

4. Greenhouse gas emissions: The production of rapeseed and the processing of rapeseed products can result in greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change.

5. Genetic modification: Some varieties of rapeseed have been genetically modified to be resistant to pests or to tolerate herbicides. There is ongoing debate about the potential risks and benefits of genetically modified crops.

6. Pollution: The production and processing of rapeseed can result in the release of pollutants into the environment, such as oil and chemical residues.

7. Monoculture: The large-scale cultivation of a single crop, such as rapeseed, can lead to a monoculture system, which can reduce biodiversity and increase the risk of pests and diseases.

8. Dependency: The reliance on a single crop, such as rapeseed, can make agricultural systems vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply chain disruptions.

9. Antinutrients: Rapeseed meal, a by-product of oil extraction, contains antinutrients such as trypsin inhibitors and lectins, which can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the body.

10. Food safety: There have been concerns about the safety of some chemically extracted rapeseed oils, such as those produced using solvents or high heat.

Nutritional properties of rapeseed

Rapeseed oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered to be healthier types of fat compared to saturated fat. It is also a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Here is an overview of the nutritional properties of rapeseed oil per 100 grams:

  • Calories: 884 calories
  • Total fat: 100 grams
  • Saturated fat: 7 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat: 61 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 32 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 2.3 grams
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 29 grams

Conclusion

Rapeseed, also known as Canola, is a type of oilseed plant that is used to produce vegetable oil and animal feed. The rapeseed industry has the potential to offer a range of benefits, including supporting food security, economic development, and environmental sustainability. However, it is also subject to some negative impacts, such as land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and potential risks to human and animal health. It is important to carefully consider the potential risks and benefits of the rapeseed industry and to implement measures to mitigate negative impacts.

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