However, over the past few years North Carolina and Virginia, and a number of other Southeast states, have participated in a National Winter Canola Variety Test program (NWCVT).

Objectives of the NWCVT are to evaluate the performance of released and experimental varieties, determine where these varieties are best adapted, and increase visibility of winter canola across the nation, including the Southeast.

In North Carolina, nine canola varieties produced higher yield than the average yield for all tests in NWCVT. The two highest yielding varieties were Visby at 118 percent of the national average and Hybrisurf at 116 percent of the average canola yield in the nationwide test program.

In Virginia, 17 varieties produced more than the national average. Visby and Hybrisurf were among the top yield producers and Hybrisurf produced the highest oil content of all the canola varieties in the test. However, a test variety, MH06E4 topped all yields by nearly 10 bushels per acre.

Yields in the Southeast are already competitive with the Great Plains and Canada. They traditionally shoot for 40-50 bushels per acre and in North Carolina and Virginia 50-60 bushels per acre are possible once growers learn more about varieties and production practices for the crop.

Horton says North Carolina currently produces about 5,000 acres of canola per year. Georgia is the largest canola producer in the Southeast, usually growing 25,000-30,000 acres each year.

The demand for canola as an oil and alternative energy crop are high. There is likewise a big demand for canola for livestock feed.  Organic canola is particularly highly sought after as a feed source, because it is much more competitively priced than other organic grains in the Southeast, Horton notes.

Worldwide, Canola meal is the second largest feed meal after soybean meal. Canola meal contains 35 percent protein and is complementary to other sources of protein because of its high levels of methionine and cysteine as compared to soybean meal and feed peas.

Canola meal is also relatively high in fiber (12 percent) and is a good source of essential minerals, with especially high levels of phosphorus.

Canola can be a good niche crop for Southeast growers, but they must have a place to sell it, Horton stresses. There is now a significant amount of information on canola production in the Southeast to help growers get started with the crop, he adds.