Strategy & Partnerships

Creating science-based building blocks for a thriving, sustainable industry

The canola industry contributes more to the Canadian economy than any other grain or oilseed crop. Research is building on this potential by investing in a long-term science strategy. This work supports innovation across the value chain, from production to finished product.

Funding for canola research is provided by the industry through the Canola Council, provincial grower organizations and government-backed research partnerships.

7 priorities for canola research:

Human nutrition
Functionality
Biodiesel and industrial uses
Oil content
Meal quality
Crop production
Sustainability

Human Nutrition

Canola is the healthiest vegetable oil available today. The Canola Council recently asked leading scientists from across Canada and the U.S. how we could build on this advantage through canola oil research. Here are the priorities they identified:

Heart Health

Canola's low saturated fat content has long been accepted as beneficial for heart health, and it has an established positive effect on blood lipids.

However, interest in blood lipids as a risk factor is falling rapidly. There is increasing interest in markers of inflammation, oxidation and endothelial function. The effect of canola oil on these emerging risk factors is most likely favourable, but is not well documented.

Preliminary clinical trials are underway, but further research is needed - particularly regarding canola oil's positive effects on inflammation and vascular function.

Diabetes

Inflammation was recently implicated as a significant cofactor in development of type 2 diabetes. Canola oil may improve patients' ability to manage the disease through diet because of its effects on inflammation, glycemic index and insulin resistance. Proof of concept work is underway, but detailed clinical studies are required. Also of interest would be studies in an animal model to identify canola oil components that have a positive effect on these factors.

Conversion and direct benefits of ALA

Although fish is considered the main source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, canola oil is also an excellent source. There are questions about the ability of human metabolism to absorb and elongate plant-based ALA into DHA, which is thought to be the more important form.

Preliminary investigations suggest this conversion is not very efficient, but it is not known whether this means ALA is not important in the human diet. Epidemiological evidence shows ALA has dramatic heart health benefits, and preliminary research suggests ALA has unique postprandial vascular benefits, independent of its conversion to DHA. More research is needed in this area, as well as in the methodologies used to measure conversion and accumulation of ALA, and the role of ALA in reducing inflammation.

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Functionality

We can build on the growing public demand for healthy products by helping the food industry use canola oil to reformulate products. Research in this area helps to diversify food markets for canola oil and potentially creates opportunities for more "designer" oils. These are the research priorities related to food uses:

Oxidative stability

This factor affects both shelf life and fry life. One major area requiring investigation is the impact of processing techniques and conditions on oil quality, especially oxidative stability.

High value components

Research has already identified several high value components in canola oil, including anti-oxidants and phytosterols. More study is needed to identify other high value fractions, develop methods for extracting these products, and understand their impact on human health.

Altered fatty acid profiles

New oil profiles can add a new dimension to the demand for healthy canola products. The market's response to new high-stability canola oil shows that modifying the fatty acid profile can significantly improve functionality and demand for canola in certain markets. Further development of altered fatty acid profiles could add significant value through enhanced human health and nutrition, development of nutraceuticals and expanded functionality.

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Biodiesel and Industrial Uses

One promising market trend for canola is the growing consumer demand for products made from renewable sources. Work in Europe has shown that canola's fatty acid profile is well-suited to biodiesel production, and there is plenty of potential to use canola in plastics.

However, Canada has a unique set of challenges in terms of climate and geography. Two areas of research that are important as we advance the industrial use of canola oil in Canada are lifecycle analysis and sustainability.

Lifecycle analysis

The industry needs a complete lifecycle analysis on the use of canola as a feedstock for biodiesel in Canada. Many studies rely on work done in other geographies, which clearly do not apply in the Canadian context. For example, nitrous oxide emissions have been identified as a problem in Brassica cultivation in warmer climates, but these emissions are unlikely to be anywhere near as high in Canadian conditions. Lifecycle analysis should specifically examine the carbon and energy balance of biodiesel produced from canola grown under Canadian conditions, using Canadian production practices.

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Oil Content

Most of the value in canola seed is derived from its oil. Increasing oil content by 1% adds about $90 million of value to the canola industry. Higher oil content also gives Canadian canola a competitive edge over oilseeds from other geographies.

Higher oil content varieties

A number of private and public research programs are already addressing this priority. Advanced breeding techniques are being used to identify and enhance germplasm for higher oil content varieties.

Meal Quality

On a per-tonne basis, up to 60% of canola seed becomes meal. Canola meal is mostly used as animal feed, particularly for dairy cows. 

Protein markets will be under pressure because of large supplies of distiller's dry grains (DDGs) and soy meal. To compete, it will be important to increase inclusion rates of canola meal and build on the nutritional value of the product.

Metabolized energy content

Three main areas are priorities for research:

  • Breeding new varieties with reduced fibre content and/or increased digestible carbohydrate content
  • Alternate processing technology - such as vacuum-assisted desolventization or reduced processing temperature - to reduce damage to meal, particularly in the toasting phase
  • Enzyme additives, either after processing or in feed processing, to break down fibre components and yield a higher metabolized energy


Impact of high inclusion rates

New research is needed to understand the impact of high canola meal inclusion rates on feed efficiency and carcass quality, and the accumulated effects of anti-nutrient components like glucosinolates, sinapines, tannins and phytate.

Some research has been done in this area but it is 15-20 years old. Current data is important to help maintain market demand as cheap protein sources become available to feed manufacturers.

Aquaculture

Research is needed to understand the potential role for canola oil and meal in this growing, high-value market. Preliminary studies suggest canola meal is a promising feed component and that the fibre content does not pose a problem in fish diets.

Extracting high value components from canola meal

There are exciting opportunities to significantly improve the value of canola meal while providing ingredient sources for food, feed and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Research is already underway to identify potential commercial products - like bioactive peptides and protein isolates - and extract them from canola meal. More research is needed to identify further high-value components, develop extraction protocols and confirm their utility in human, animal or processing systems.

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Production

Higher yields will be needed to meet the canola industry's production target of 52 bushels per acre by the year 2025. The industry has identified these priorities for production research.

Improve yields

There is significant private and some public investment in development of high-performance genetics. Public investment is important to sustain yield improvements for the industry overall and to provide important germplasm and trait development pipelines that are used by private breeding companies.

There is also a serious need for research into agronomic practices that will help growers make the best use of these new canola characteristics. Research is required to identify the correct and most profitable production practices in a wide range of environments.

Protect yield potential through abiotic stress tolerance

Drought, frost, heat and other stress factors continue to be the number one cause of reduced yields. Stress-tolerant traits need to be developed so that the crop is more productive in areas prone to these conditions.

Expand range of adaptation

Research is needed into cultivars that allow canola to be grown over a wider area - for example:

  • Varieties with improved maturity for the early season zone
  • More drought and heat tolerance through products like Brassica juncea for the brown and dark brown soil zones
  • More cold-tolerant winter canola varieties for several regions


Improve disease and insect resistance

The industry needs new cultivars, products and practices to reduce these pest pressures:

  • Clubroot: This is a top priority for the industry because there are currently no clubroot-resistant canola products in Canada. Growers and industry are funding research into the disease and the development of resistant germplasm, but more needs to be done in this area.
  • Blackleg: This disease continues to be a major factor in canola crop management. Rotations and resistant genes have resulted in pathogenicity changes that need to be better understood. New resistant genes must be identified and deployed in future cultivars.

    Click here to read the Blackleg Strategic Plan in Canada (PDF), December 2013

  • Sclerotinia: This is perhaps the most economically significant canola disease in Canada. New chemistries are being introduced for control, but the industry needs more consistent, longer-term solutions such as genetic resistance or avoidance in future cultivars. 
  • Beneficial insects: Research can help the industry identify beneficial insects and the management practices that favour their development. We also need to understand how they affect economic thresholds for control.  Some public sector and grower-funded research into beneficial insects is underway.

Improve sustainability

New traits such as nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) or water use efficiency (WUE) are already in development. Many approaches require more investigation to ensure successful products get into growers' hands.

Introduce shatter tolerance

Improved tolerance to shattering would reduce yield losses, enable straight cutting of canola, increase oil content and decrease chlorophyll content. Development of shatter-tolerant cultivars is already underway in both private and public research programs. However, a variety with improved shatter tolerance is not yet available to growers.

Reduce chlorophyll content

Green seed reduces grades and profits for growers and increases the cost of processing oil. Significant cost savings could result from varieties that are able to clear chlorophyll faster or otherwise reduce the amount of chlorophyll in the crop. The industry needs a better understanding of the pathways involved in reducing chlorophyll content so that lower chlorophyll varieties can be developed.

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Sustainability

The industry needs to better understand canola's place in cropping systems so we can ensure our practices align with consumer expectations for sustainable production. One priority is a comprehensive study examining canola's role in water usage and watershed management, nutrient management, carbon sequestration and other practices related to sustainable production.

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