On our first trip to Germany some years ago, my wife, our friends and I drove past magnificent fields of bright yellow plants and commented on their beauty. They were fields of rapeseed, Brassica napus. At first we guessed that these were fields of hops because, after all, we were in the homeland of the beer meisters.
Right now the German farmers are harvesting the rapeseed which has grown over the winter, like our winter wheat. Yet, during it’s flowering time, the flowers have provided a great source of nectar for the honey bees, unlike the wheat plant. That’s just one of many advantages of growing the rapeseed plant.
As with winter wheat, the harvested land can then be put to a second crop for the remainder of the growing season- a two-for-one land use. The seeds are the most valuable part of the plant and contain a high percentage of oil which can be used both for cooking oil [canola] and for biodiesel. In fact, rapeseed in the number one biodiesel ingredient throughout Europe because rapeseed produces more oil per unit of land area compared to other oil sources, such as soy beans or corn.
After the oil is squeezed for its oil content, the ‘press cakes’ provide a valuable animal meal as a by-product, especially for cattle. Some cultures use leaves and stems of the plant as food. This is especially popular in Asian cultures.
As we watch the unfolding of the BP oil well disaster on our TV screens, we may want to ask whether we want to risk even more of these man-made catastrophes in the future or whether we might consider other sources for our energy needs. It seems to me that the cultivation of rapeseed may not only provide help in the energy market, but also it is also a valuable plant before and after the oil has been extracted.
Obviously the Germans already know that. When will we catch on?