Local rapeseed crops bring spring bling
Certain seasons here in Germany made me wonder if the sun would ever peer out from that leaden sky.
Eventually, the sullen storm clouds parted and light streams down, illuminating an armada of yellow hectares unlike any I have ever seen before. These golden farmlands were rapeseed crops.
The plant known as "rape," from a Latin word for "turnip," is a widely cultivated crop in the mustard, cabbage or cruciferous vegetable family. During World War II, rapeseed oil was primarily used for industrial purposes, but by 1956, production of the oil was so toxic the FDA banned it for human consumption. So when Canadian growers cultivated a new variety of it in the 1970s with a lower content of the harmful acid, they wisely chose to rename it for better marketability.
The term canola was coined from "Canadian oil, low acid" to reassure consumers that this product was safe to eat. And while "canola" was originally a registered trademark, the term became so commonly used that the trademark was eventually dropped. Today, canola oil is a highly effective insecticide, and it is the primary ingredient in many organic pesticides.
The rapeseed crop is of high importance for European agriculture as it accounts for half of the oilseed crop production in the European Union and more than 12 percent of cultivated areas in Germany. As agronomic skills of farmers utilizing cultivated seeds have improved in recent years, so have their yields, making rapeseed the clear leader in biodiesel development in German markets and as a chief export.
Those of us lucky enough to be in the German countryside each spring also benefit from its aesthetic allure.