Rapeseed: Moldova’s Fields of Gold

May 29, 2018

Many people in Moldova and online have asked me, “What is growing where the fields are covered in yellow?” I am delighted to reply, Oilseeds!, either Canola in May or Sunflowers in July.

Photos in the Canola are ideal but before adventuring out into the field for a photo beware that the Canola will turn your clothes yellow.

I chuckle when I see brides and grooms in Moldova taking pictures in the Canola (because I have seen it a hundred times), as they emerge from the field they are horrified that their wedding wear has changed colors, they are now covered in yellow pollen.

Technical Bits

In the US we know oil Rapeseed as Canola, but Canola is actually a “variety” of Rapeseed.
The term Canola was formed using the following abbreviations. “Canada oil low acid,” wikipedia says that it was formed by Canada and “ola” meaning oil. The term Canola is used popularly in the US even if the variety grown is not “low acid.”
In Moldova we call it “Raps.”

Arugula and Raps are both members of the same plant family “brassica” the same as cabbage and kale. While we breed varieties of arugula to increase foliage production so we can harvest leafy greens we select plants that are slow to develop seed heads also known as “slow bolting.” Bolting means when the plant tries to go to seed.

After years of growing arugula salad for commercial sale,   makes me shiver to see it Raps “bolt” to seed so quickly.

With arugula I was trying to cultivate, harvest and sell the leaves of the plant so bolting to flower was always a bad sign, this also meant that the arugula was more spicy/bitter if the plant was already trying to make seeds.
With Canola however the plant varieties are being developed to develop quickly after a fall planting, resist the winter through dormancy and then bolt quickly in the spring to flowers before its seed pods dry sufficiently to be harvested with a combine. This means that when the conditions are right, the plant will bolt quickly and grow from 6 inches to 4 feet over 2-3 weeks.  Arugula when left to seed produces 20-50 seed pods, but our Raps in 2018 produced on average 400 seed pods per plant.

One of our first years farming in Moldova we planted “Raps” in a field that had previously been planted to winter wheat and harvested with a notoriously inefficient “Niva” combine. The Niva failed to properly harvest the wheat and much of it was dropped in the field.

Niva combine

We planted the “raps” without the typically required deep tillage in the fall and still got a fair establishment of Raps before the first freeze. The winter was brutal and much of the Raps froze. The foliage looked healthy, but the root systems were unable to adequately establish before the cold.  The surviving plants that emerged in the spring were spotty and weak. The winter wheat that had been dropped into the field emerged strongly and by mid spring we realized that we had a problem with a mixed crop. As sometimes farmers are forced to do, we needed to decide whether to till the entire crop under or salvage a reduced yield. After calculating that we would not manage to till and plant spring corn or sunflowers, we decided to leave our wheat/raps crop and hope to salvage our sunk costs with whatever yield we were able to harvest.

A poor Rapeseed crop

We harvested 50 tones from 50 hectares or the equivalent of 15.9 bushels per acre, from this 2/3 was Canola and 1/3 Wheat. We calculated that it would be less expensive to pay 4 guys to hand sift 50+ tons of canola/wheat mix, than it would be to take the price dock at the elevator where they would process with industrial equipment.

2/3 Rapeseed, 1/3 Winter wheatSo with old soviet augers and cleaning machines and homemade brooms , it took our guys about a week to separate wheat from canola.

A homemade broom used to separate 100 tones of wheat

Today we can look back and chuckle about our first experience growing “Raps.” Today we have significantly improved our production technologies and have been meeting or exceeding production yields for Raps in our region.

Raps in 2018 with over 400 pods per plant

Canola in bloom


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