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Brassica Breeding and Research Canola, Rapeseed, Mustard, and Biodiesel

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Brassica Research

Agricultural Sciences Bldg. Rm. 321
Phone: (208) 885-6710
Fax: (208) 885-7760

Mailing Address:
Brassica Breeding & Research
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2339
Moscow, ID  83844-2339

Brassica Breeding and Research


Brassica is a genus within the Brassicaceae (Cruciferae), commonly known as the mustard family. The family of about 375 genera and 3200 species includes crops, ornamentals, and many weeds. Brassica contains about 100 species, including rapeseed, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnip, various mustards and weeds. (From: Willis, J.C. 1973. A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns. Eighth Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et alibi. 1245pp.)

The Brassica Breeding Group at the University of Idaho conducts ongoing research for alternative crop use and other reasons within the Pacific Northwest dryland (no irrigation) farming. We work with a number of other disciplines within the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences including, Plant Pathology, Horticulture, Engineering, Agronomy, Soil Science, Entomology and Economics. Our primary research area in Northern Idaho extends from Bonners Ferry to Grangeville. We also conduct research or collaborate with other researchers in central and eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and in Kalispell, Montana. Crop varieties include:  Brassica napus, and Brassica rapa, Canola/Rapeseed; Sinapis alba, Yellow Mustard (Condiment); and Brassica juncea (yellow and brown, condiment and canola-quality), Oriental Mustard. Farming systems throughout the Palouse and Prairie, mostly northwest and central Idaho and northeast Washington are primarily dryland, some areas within central Washington and north-central Oregon are irrigated systems.

Specific research conducted by our group includes:

  • Investigate breeding methodologies and inheritance of important traits in developing new and improved varieties of Brassica crops.
  • Examine and develop procedures to increase breeding efficiency in developing superior Brassica oilseed and condiment cultivars.
  • Develop oilseed Brassica cultivars that produce oil suitable for industrial processing, including high quality biodiesel.
  • Broaden genetic base and introgress insect and disease resistance and other desirable traits into Brassica crops using interspecific and intraspecific hybridization.
  • Develop genotypes of yellow mustard (S. alba) with modified fatty acid oil content, improved oil content, and with low glucosinolate content in residual seed meal, i.e. a canola-quality mustard.
  • Develop interspecific and intraspecific hybrid genotypes with designer glucosinolate content and quality suitable as an alternative to highly toxic synthetic soil fumigants.
  • Develop seeding techniques specific to the Pacific Northwest conventional tillage and direct seeding farming practices.

Canola/Rapeseed Breeding and Research

First we need to clear up the confusion between the use of the terms "canola" and "rapeseed". The use of rapeseed is the traditional name for the group of oilseed crops in the Brassicaceae family. Rapeseed (Brassica napus, or Brassica rapa) can be divided into two types: Canola, and Industrial rapeseed. The two types are distinguished based on their individual chemical or fatty acid profiles, which is the fat molecule. Canola is the new name for the edible oil-crop that is characterized by low erucic acid (long chain fat found in plants of the mustard family) or L.E.A.R., with less than 2% erucic acid, and less than 30 micromoles glucosinolates (the 'hot' in mustard seeds, when this compound is broken down with water it reacts and provides the heat felt on the tongue, characteristic in all Brassicaceae plants). Industrial Rapeseed, high in erucic acid or H.E.A.R., with greater than 45% erucic acid, and high or low in glucosinolates. Low glucosinolates are preferred for traditional markets to allow the use of the meal as a livestock feed.

Brassica napus, is thought to exist primarily through a natural cross between close relatives, the parents, B. oleracea (Cabbage, Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli) and B. rapa (Turnip rape, rapeseed, Turnip), B. napus is self pollinated. It is thought to possibly have existed as a wild escape in the overlap zones of European-Mediterranean areas where the parents originated.

We have developed 9 varieties of B. napus, 6 spring forms, and 3 winter forms specific to growing conditions in the Pacific Northwest, to view the variety release data please refer to the For Growers page under Varieties. We are developing, through greenhouse and field trials different varieties for use in different commercial and industrial settings. Some of these uses include cooking, food additives, lubrication, alternative fuel uses (Biodiesel, University of Idaho, Agricultural Engineering), motor oil additives (Duane Johnson at: NWARC, Montana State University, Kalispell, MT).

Here at the University of Idaho Canola breeding and research program we are developing superior seed for use as alternative crop rotations in the Pacific Northwest. We are investigating breeding methodologies and inheritance of important traits to develop new and improved Brassica crop species. We are also examining and developing procedures to increase breeding efficiency to developed superior Brassica oilseed and condiment cultivars. When dealing with an oil-seed crop you also need to look at the by-products which is the meal. We are developing cultivars with more specific chemical profiles to include the meal as a livestock feed. We are ultimately developing oilseed Brassica cultivars that would be suitable for industrial processing, including high quality biodiesel.

Mustard Breeding and Research

The term 'mustard' is believed to be derived from the use of the seeds as condiment; the sweet 'must' of old wine was mixed with crushed seeds to form a paste. It is amongst the oldest recorded spices, with Sanskrit records dating back to about 3000 B.C.

Within the condiment mustards all have high glucosinolate levels and the oil is neither canola nor industrial quality. There is Yellow Mustard (or white mustard), Sinapis alba, and Oriental Mustard, Brassica juncea (yellow and brown seeded varieties) developed between the cross Brassica rapa (canola-cabbage, kohlrabi, etc.) and Brassica nigra (Black mustard-weed).

Sinapis alba:  The center of origin is believed to be the eastern Mediterranean, and wild forms occur around most of the Mediterranean littoral, especially in the Aegean (eastern Mediterranean).

Brassica juncea:  The center of origin is believed to be in Central Asia-Himalayas, with migration to secondary centers in India, China and the Caucasus (mountainous region of south-central Russia).

Mustards have very appealing growing characteristics when compared to Canola. Compared to canola they have much higher resistance to insect and disease damage, can grow in the drier areas within the Pacific Northwest and under normal conditions will yield higher. But, the oil quality is lower so value placed on mustard is low. Through interspecific and intergeneric hybridization using the ovary culture and embryo rescue techniques we have taken the desirable traits of this plant and hybridized it to canola to attempt to create a canola-quality oil with higher disease and insect resistance.

Biodiesel Research

Biodiesel research is being conducted here at the UI is a collaborative effort between the Canola Research and Breeding, and the Agricultural Engineering lab. The canola lab develops variety selections and Agricultural Engineering has been developing the processing end products for about 25 years, under Chuck Peterson (Biodiesel). Any vegetable oil can be used as a fuel, known as biodiesel. You can use fresh pressed oils from seed harvested or you can actually re-use used fry oil (as in fast food restaurant type oils). There are a variety of reasons certain plant types are used as fuels. Brassicaceae oils are relatively low in saturated fats, have a lower pour or melting point, and it has better cold flow properties than soy oils. They are also relatively low in polyunsaturated fats which equals to lower nitrous oxide emissions.

Currently biodiesel is relatively costly compared to petroleum diesel. To reduce the cost UI is developing alternative uses of the canola and mustard seed by-products. To produce biodiesel you press the seed to extract the oil, the high cost value product. The by-product is an oil-free seed meal. Meal with low glucosinolate content is livestock feed, which has very low value. High glucosinolate meal from mustards has the potential for use as a bio-fumigant (replacing soil fumigants such as methyl bromide). Soil fumigants have a high value cost associate, which will reduce the price of bio-fuels.

The performance of many diesel engines has been tested with various forms of biodiesel. Examples include Cummins, Caterpillar, Navistar, Isuzu, John Deere, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen in various forms of biodiesel (UI on-farm equipment and vehicles, combines, tractors, trucks, Bio-Bug — 2002 VW Beetle).