“He helped us put together programs that will help farmers grow the crop and continues to be an excellent resource for AgStrong. That’s a big part of our objective — to find innovative, successful farmers who want a stable, sustainable crop to grow,” Davis says.

Based on the success of the pilot plant, the Davis cousins built a processing plant in Bowersville in 2008 and already have expanded the operation. Most of the canola they used in the processing plant came from outside the Southeast. Though about half their canola still comes from the lower Midwest and down into Alabama, Davis has built a small, reliable cadre of growers in South Carolina and Georgia to grow canola, and he is hoping all the canola he needs will be grown in the two-state area in this cropping year.

The crushing plant in Bowersville is rated as a 50 ton per day facility. Depending on canola yield. Davis says the plant can use 12,000-15,000 acres of canola.

In addition, the new refinery at the Bowersville site was designed to process canola grown in Georgia and the Carolinas, plus canola grown for a new plant that is scheduled to be built in northern Alabama.

The Alabama plant will be in the heart of the Tennessee Valley cotton production area and will provide a sustainable winter crop option for growers there as well as parts of Tennessee and eastern Mississippi .

Davis notes that once operational, the northern Alabama plant, located between Decatur and Florence on the Tennessee River, will be designed to crush  up to 150 tons per day and canola produced from  45,000-50,000 acres annually.

Nationally, the market is there for canola. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Americans used just over 3 billion pounds of canola oil in 2010, with about 2.5 billion pounds of that imported from Canada.

In addition to providing a sustainable winter crop for Southeast farmers, canola also provides some healthy ammunition for America’s war on obesity. Canola offers the highest levels of unsaturated fat, the most omega-3 anti-inflammatory fatty acids and is trans-fat and cholesterol-free.

Davis says establishing a market through processing, storage and refinery facilities was the first step in building a sustainable canola industry in the Southeast. The next challenge will be to develop enough acres to feed the two processing plants and the refinery.

To help on the agronomic side in building acreage, Davis hired Mike Garland, former executive director of the Georgia Seed Development Commission, as crop development director. 

A soybean breeder by training from Clemson and Iowa State Universities, Garland has a passion to find growers in South Carolina to grow canola.

Trish DeHond, a regional Extension agriculture agent in South Carolina says Davis and Garland met with Clemson University officials to discuss canola production in South Carolina. Then, they followed that up in meetings with key South Carolina farmers to discuss canola production.

Next year’s plan includes canola research at three of the Clemson Research and Education Centers: Clemson, Pee Dee and Edisto. From all this interaction, interest in growing canola seems to be really growing in South Carolina, DeHond says.