North Carolina farmers Phil McLain and John Hart are among a growing number of North Carolina growers trying their hand at a second season of rapeseed production.

So far, so good, they say.

McClain, who farms with his son Phillip near Statesville, N.C., has been growing canola for a number of years and switched recently to rapeseed. Hart, who farms near Bolton, N.C., is a long-time grain farmer and also new to rapeseed production.

Both farmers grow rapeseed, called HEAR for High Erucic Acid Rapeseed, for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Technology Crops International (TCI). Grower Relations Manager for TCI, Jeff Riddle, says his company has been in business more than a decade.

“We work with customers to provide them with specialty oils. Once the customer determines what type oil they want, we contract a price and quantity with them. Then, we contract with farmers to grow the crop and provide help to them to grow the crop successfully and profitably.”

The company grows 15 crops worldwide. One of their largest and most successful crop ventures has been with high oleic sunflowers. In North Carolina, their primary crop is rapeseed.

Rapeseed is very similar to canola — so similar in fact that most people can’t tell the two brassica crops apart. Biologically there are a few differences, but from a production standpoint there isn’t much difference, and even the name canola is an acronym for Canadian Oil Low Acid.

Canola has about 2 percent erucic acid and rapeseed has 40-50 percent erucic acid. The acronym for North Carolina-grown rapeseed is HEAR or High Erucic Acid Rapeseed.

There is a tremendous market in the U.S. for rapeseed, used primarily for industrial use. Currently, more than 90 percent of the rapeseed used in the U.S. is imported. “We know rapeseed will be a niche market in North Carolina, but it is a highly profitable and highly sustainable market for farmers who can grow it,” Riddle says.

The price offered by TCI to growers for rapeseed is closely tied to wheat prices. For the 2010-2011 crop, and again for the 2011-2012 crop, growers are expected to net about 20 percent more for rapeseed than for wheat, according to Riddle.