Canola has been planted sporadically across the upper Southeast over the past few years, but few farmers have tried spelt, though it was once a common crop throughout the U.S.

In the Southeast both crops are highly desirable as organic crops and North Carolina growers interested in growing spelt or canola can learn more about these crops at field day set for June 2, at 4 p.m. at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, N.C.

The meeting will feature several presentations on organic spelt, including varieties, disease management, and markets. Similar presentations will be made on organic canola, including seeding rate trial, varieties and seed sources, growth stages, and seed development.

Chris Reberg-Horton and Molly Hamilton will host the meeting. Reberg-Horton is assistant professor and organic cropping specialist at North Carolina State University andHamilton is an Extension assistant in western North Carolina. 

Both have been instrumental in helping farmers grow and market a number of organic crops in North Carolina.

The North Carolina State researchers also will discuss rapeseed, providing some interesting insights as to exactly what is a rapeseed crop and some of the marketing opportunities for marketing these crops.

While canola has been grown sporadically in North Carolina in recent years, spelt is a new crop to the area in modern times, though it was once a significant crop.

Spelt is a grain that is in growing demand for food-grade milling. It is a subspecies of wheat, and is sometimes used in livestock feed as well. It is possible to grow spelt in North Carolina, but little to no research has been done on spelt production in the Southeast.

NCSU's Organic Grain Program conducted organic spelt variety trials in 2010 and continues with the program in 2011. The North Carolina State research team is looking at yield potential and disease resistance in the state.

Initial information from this research is included in presentations to be made at the June 2 field day.

Spelt is being "rediscovered" by American consumers. It is popular in Europe and is used in a wide variety of cereals, pastas, crackers, baked goods, and beers. Spelt has been used successfully, under physicians' supervision, as a wheat substitute for people who have wheat allergies.

Spelt was commonly grown in the U.S. by European settlers. However, by the dawning of the 20th Century most spelt production had been replaced by wheat. The recent development of spelt products in the U.S. comes primarily for the health food market.

Demand has generated a big enough market to increase spelt production 80-fold in the U.S. in the past 10 years.

Global canola production growing rapidly

Global canola production has grown rapidly over the past 40 years, rising from the sixth largest oil crop to the second largest, totaling nearly 20 percent of worldwide vegetable oil production by 2009

Canola meal is highly sought after as a livestock feed, especially for dairy cattle. Canola meal is the second largest feed meal after soybean meal — worldwide.

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 field 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.

Almost all canola is crushed into oil and meal. However, there is a growing interest in producing canola for use in the biofuels industry. The major holdbacks are price related.

Canola oil for human food use commands a much higher price currently than canola oil used for biofuel production.

Statesville, N.C., growers Phil and son Phillip McLain have grown about 1,000 acres of canola for the past few years — with good results.

“We’ve had some 65 bushel per acre canola and probably averaged better than 50 bushels per acre on most of our farm,” Phillip McLain notes. At that yield level, he says canola fits in somewhere between wheat and soybeans in terms of profitability.

The North Carolina grower says they plant canola at about four pounds per acre, making the seed cost less than most other comparable grain crops. They also can plant canola with a corn planter or a grain drill, giving them some needed flexibility in planting.

The McLains got into canola production as a source of base for a projected biodiesel production operation. Though they used canola oil as fuel for their farm equipment — and liked it a great deal — price has put a damper on growing and crushing canola for fuel.

They sell all the canola they crush to local buyers, with the oil going for food use and the meal going to local dairies.

Canola and spelt are two crops that could potentially be added to expand organic rotations in North Carolina. Markets for these crops are emerging in the area, the North Carolina State researchers say.

For directions to the event, contact any North Caolina State Cooperative Extension office or visit http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/aboutcefs/directionsoberryandsfu.html.

rroberson@farmpress.com