How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

Last April, I wrote a story about the gorgeous yellow fields of canola that were growing along I-24 in Cadiz, Kentucky. You can read all about it and see the photos here.

This is Part 2 of that story. The part where after seeing a dramatic increase in the number of yellow fields from the year before, I called the plant manager at the local AgStrong Canola and Sunflower Seed Processing Plant that I had read about in the paper and asked, What gives? Why are we suddenly seeing so much yellow? When he started to explain, I realized I had a lot to learn and asked if I could drive over to meet him and get a tour of the plant. An hour later Mark Dallas was giving my husband and me a tour. Not exactly the way I thought my day would turn out, but I do love a good backroads detour.

As background information, can-o-l-a oil, or “Canada-oil-low-acid,” is made from crushed canola seeds. These seeds are about the size of poppy seeds. Even having seen how canola oil is extracted from these seeds, I still shake my head in disbelief that anything that small, even in huge numbers, could produce something as useful as cooking oil.

A very short botany lesson about plant reproduction:
Flowers have one job, and one job only: to induce reproduction. To that end, flowers that are fertilized will make seeds. Those seeds will make new plants. That the plants grow and produce tasty fruits and vegetables that we like to eat, is bonus. Botanically speaking, those fruits of the plants are actually ripened ovaries full of seeds waiting to be planted. The flesh of fruit is sweet so animals will eat it and disperse the seeds in their travels. Tree nuts work in the same way; Mother Nature is counting on squirrels to bury nuts and thereby assure they will sprout and there will be more trees in the future.

Back to canola flowers and seeds. Like winter wheat, canola is planted in the fall, sprouts, goes dormant in the winter,​ and perks up again in early spring. It flowers in mid-April, and the seed pods are harvested in mid-June. Farmers like to grow winter wheat and canola because then they can double-crop their fields, meaning there is time left in the warm summer months to raise another crop, such as soybeans, in that same field. By comparison, in most northern climates, there’s only time to grow one crop like wheat or canola.

The photo on the left was taken from a stem of canola flowers on April 17th. The photo on the right was taken on June 12th, just a few days before the pods were harvested by the combines I wrote about in this article.
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You may have seen similar seed pods develop in your own gardens if you ever let broccoli or bok choi plants flower and “go to seed.” If you look closely at the flowers below, you can see the early development of seed pods. They look like little spikes. Canola is in the same Brassica family as bok choi and broccoli.

The next photos are of fully mature canola seed pods that I dissected at home to release the seeds within. You can see how small these seeds are. It’s amazing to think cooking oil is extracted from them.
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AgStrong contracts with local, family-owned, farms to plant nonGMO canola seeds in their fields. NonGMO means the seed’s genetic material has not been manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering to make it more disease or insect resistant. A few other tidbits I learned about growing canola: canola has a 5-6 inch tap route which acts as a natural tiller in the soil, and canola brings in $8.10/bushel compared to wheat’s $5.25/bushel.

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Here is a photo of the canola oil processing plant in Trenton, KY.

It takes a lot of seeds to make canola oil and these fifty-foot silos are full of them.

This is what the inside of one of those silos looks like.

The first stop on the tour was the long silver cylindrical oven used to warm the seeds to no more than 120º. Warming the seeds made them easier to press. The low oven temperature kept the process in the category of cold-pressed. The blue conveyor belt brought the warmed seeds to a machine that cracked the hard outer shells.

Next stop was the seed crusher. This was where the magic happened. This machine crushed the seeds and expelled the golden canola oil into the blue well. The oil will still need to go to an offsite refinery before it can be bottled.

Here’s a video of the mechanical magic happening:

Here was the residual seed meal as it dropped onto a conveyor belt.

This meal was delivered to the green machine for a second pressing to remove the last traces of oil. At this plant, there are no chemical solvents, like hexane, used to extract these last drops of oil. That’s where the expression “all natural expeller press” comes from.

Here’s the residual meal as it came off the conveyor belt after the last of the oil had been pressed from it. The meal is used to feed livestock.

This is the transport room. It’s where the seeds, collected from farmers, are gathered and delivered to the silos for storage. And later, after pressing, where the extracted oil is weighed and distributed, via trucks, to be delivered to Georgia for the final refining process and …

bottling. You can find Agstrong’s Solio Canola Oil at Whole Foods stores.

But the story doesn’t end there. As a volunteer chef and Board member of The Nashville Food Project my antennae is always up for opportunities for food donation and food recovery. Canola and olive oil are two expensive staples we use in abundance at TNFP. I asked if Agstrong would consider partnering with us and donating their locally grown and manufactured Solio oil to TNFP, which they have graciously done. Here was the Plant Manger, Mark Dallas, donating a 35-pound container of oil to TNFP, on the spot.
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And that’s how this one little detour ended up providing cooking oil for TNFP whose mission is “Bringing people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.”
The story, however, didn’t end there, either. I happened to “pull” a few young canola plants from the side of the road last April to plant in my vegetable garden, so I could watch and learn how these plants matured to the seed stage. Once the plants produced seed pods and dried out, I was pleasantly surprised to walk out to my garden one day and see my chickens poking their heads through the chicken wire and eating the canola seeds.
It looks like Agstrong’s byproduct of meal for livestock was a winner.
I’ll leave you with a video of my chickens enjoying canola seed pods:

Related Posts on Commercial Farming:


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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

How Local Canola Crops are Grown

We were driving down the highway and saw this beautiful view.DSC_0631 We pulled off the road and Googled “What are the yellow flowers growing in the fields?” Wikipedia knew exactly what we were talking about; its first response was, It’s a field of rapeseed (Brassica napus — in the same plant family as mustard, cabbage, and kale). The seeds produced by these plants are crushed to make rapeseed oil.

We had seen this yellow field and barn the week before on the road between Hopkinsville and Cadiz, KY and had pulled over to photograph it.


We had no idea how yellow it was to become. Here it is a week later.


Spectacular as this barn on the side of the highway was, we saw more and bigger yellow fields on the horizon and got back into the car to explore them.


We saw a road with geese strutting across it.


I egged my husband on, “Go down the road. We have four wheel drive. Don’t we?”

He’s curious, too. That’s why I married him. I knew he’d take the road. We drove a little further and what we saw was unbelievable.


In our entire lives, we’d never seen a yellow as yellow as this yellow. We both jumped out of the car to marvel at the fields and then he did something I would never think to do because I am wise and I always consider the snakes, creepy crawlers, and axe-murderers of the world — he waded into the sea of yellow just to see how tall the plants were.


He was kidding, but still.


I told him to move out of the way. A sprayer was coming.


By now I’ve taken a hundred pictures, but the color and light are tantalizing, and I want more. I can’t help myself; I want to capture it all. So I say, “Just a few more pictures and I’ll be done. I promise.” This field was a photographer’s playground; I could have shot in it all day.

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I read a more about rapeseed. I learned that in the 1970s, a group of Canadian plant breeders sought to develop an edible, nutritious oil that would grow well in the prairies. They succeeded — the seeds they developed from the rapeseed plant are 44% oil, more than double the oil content of soybeans, and only 7% saturated fat, the lowest of any vegetable oil. The other 56% of the seed is milled to make a high-protein meal used to feed livestock.

The Canadians needed a new, more respectable name for their cultivar. They came up with can-o-l-a, Canada-oil-low-acid. Canola is the most profitable crop grown in Canada, and Canada remains the global center for research on their “Made in Canada” crop.

I saw this sign on the side of the road of a canola fields in Cadiz.


This looks like the flowering heads of kale and broccoli growing in my garden.


I like to see how plants grow and seeds form, so I uprooted a few plants from the side of the road (roadsideya, as I call it) and planted them in my garden.

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A follow-up:

This is a photo of canola seed pods taken on June 12. The seeds start to grow inside the pods once the flowers are pollinated and the blooms drop.

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Here are the canola seeds from inside the seed pods I grew in my back yard.


This photo from the Internet shows a combine harvesting desiccated canola. Crop desiccation means to apply an herbicide shortly before harvest to aid in uniform crop dry down. Herbicides reduce the green material on a plant so it won’t clog up the combine when it comes time to harvest the seeds and grains.


All of the photos used for this post are untouched (no color enhancements added) except for cropping. In other words, Isn’t the yellow awesome?!

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There is now a follow-up to this story: How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

Related Posts on Commercial Farming:


Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.