Davie farmer making world greener with bright yellow crop
By Kathy Chaffin
MOCKSVILLE ó Headed west on Highway 64 in Davie County, a bright mass of yellow appears on the horizon. From a distance, it appears as if the sun has come down to touch the earth.
The closer you get, the more brilliant the color. But it is not a fallen sun that is causing motorists to slow down in awe and would-be photographers to stop and capture the beauty.
It’s 94 acres of canola planted by Madison Angell along U.S. 64 and Madison Road, which is named after the longtime farmer.
This is Angell’s first year to plant canola. “I’d talked about it and read about it and worked some with a friend that farms it in Iredell,” he said. “It’s a good alternate crop to rotate with wheat.
“If you stay with the same crop, you’ll have a build-up of disease after a couple of years.”
Canola, which was developed in Canada through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, is used to make cooking oil, biodiesel fuel and meal for livestock.
Greg Hoover, the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service director for Davie County, said canola produces a higher oil yield than soybeans with 37 to 40 percent as compared to the 18 to 20 percent yield for soybeans. The 35 percent yield on meal, however, is lower than the 45 percent yield for soybeans.
Because of the negative association with the word rapeseed, producers came up with a more marketing-friendly word. The first three letters in canola stands for Canada, Hoover said, while the o stands is for oil and the la, low-acid.
Once considered a specialty crop in Canada, canola has become a major cash crop for the United States as well. The two countries produce between 7 million and 10 million tons of canola seed per year.
Hoover said Angell is the first farmer in Davie County to grow canola. “There was another field that somebody put in,” he said, “but it did not survive.”
As to whether more farmers will plant canola, Hoover said, “if it can be grown profitably, then absolutely.”
Angell said he plans to take his canola harvest to an Iredell County farm which crushes the seeds for cooking and biodiesel fuel.
“Most of us have found that it does a little better job than regular diesel fuel,” he said. “It does a better job of lubricating and cuts down on smoke and so forth. And it smells better.”
Canola is beginning to be planted in Rowan County as well.
The Piedmont Research Station in Cleveland has been growing different varieties of canola on and off for 15 years, according to Superintendent Joe Hampton.
“The purpose of our work is to evaluate which of the varieties are adaptive to the Piedmont and which varieties are not,” Hampton said.
This year’s crop consists of 2.5 to 3 acres. “We’ve had a good growing season,” he said. “It hasn’t been damaged by the cold weather, so right now, we’re optimistic that we will have a good crop.”
Canola is harvested with a traditional combine, Hampton said, though it requires a number of adjustments because the canola seeds are so much smaller than wheat grains. “The canola seed is about the same size as a mustard seed,” he said.
Madison Angell said his crop in Davie has been attracting attention since it started blooming about three weeks ago. “I’ve seen it before,” he said, “but it’s kind of amazing to have it around my house on both sides.”
Angell said a lot of passersby have stopped to take photographs, and several, upon spotting him or his wife, Elsie, in the yard, have even pulled into their driveway to ask about the crop. “I don’t mind,” he said. “I guess it’s the first they’ve seen in the county. It’s definitely showy.
“There’s a lady who always comes by here. She said, ‘I’ve always enjoyed seeing your wheat and soybeans, but this is spectacular.’ ”
Angell has even taken some photographs of the fields of blooms, which he described as being the most beautiful with the late afternoon sun shining down on them. He said the blooms will likely only last another week.
Angell plans to plant the fields in soybeans after harvesting the canola.
At age 76, he is semi-retired. Back in 2000, Angell farmed about 4,600 acres in Davie, Columbus and Davidson counties.
“I’ve got it down to about 200 acres,” he said. “It’s something I’m enjoying doing, and this is something kind of different.”
Angell said he plans to continue farming as long as he’s able “to get out and breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sunshine and smell the dirt and see what’s going on.”
“That’s part of life,” he said. “You’ve got to keep on going.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.