In the height of today's health consciousness, Americans have discovered an alternative low-fat cooking oil -- canola.
That spells profit for some Georgia farmers.
After several years of low wheat prices, many Georgia farmers welcomed a new winter crop.
"About 18,000 acres were planted in the Carolina-Georgia area," said John Woodruff, a University of Georgia Extension Service agronomist. "About 16,000 of those were planted in Georgia."
That's about the same acreage as was planted last year. But this year farmers are looking for much better yields.
"Last year we had a very bad freeze that wiped out all but about 2,000 acres of the canola crop," Woodruff said. "So far, this year's crop is in mint condition and we have no reason to think we will harvest any less than 95 percent of the acreage."
Another plus for Georgia's canola growers is the industry attention to the crop.
"This year almost all of the canola planted was on contracts," Woodruff said. "Last year, only 70 percent was contract-grown."
Growers' noncontract canola is bought and sold locally like corn, wheat or other grains.
"With contract crops, it is vertically integrated," Woodruff explained. "A particular outfit offers a per-bushel amount for the grower to grow it at the guaranteed price."
The future looks bright for Georgia farmers interested in growing the new crop.
"Canola production is likely to continue to increase," Woodruff said. "That's especially true if the current offering price of $8 per bushel holds."
The market price for wheat, the crop with which canola competes for acreage in Georgia, is about $3.30 per bushel for the 1997 crop.
But Georgia farmers planted about 400,000 acres of wheat this year. That's up from 350,000 in '95. The two crops yield close to the same number of bushels per acre.
Farmers who want to know more about growing canola as a winter crop should contact the county extension office.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)