North Dakota is the nation's dominant canola producer. That was especially true in 2018 - and could be the case again in 2019, too.

A record average yield of 1,960 pounds per acre in 2018 pushed canola production in the state to a record 3.1 billion pounds, up 24 percent from 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

North Dakota accounted for a whopping 88 percent of total U.S. canola production of 3.6 billion pounds. Canola generally fares best in cool conditions, so it's popular in North Dakota, especially the northern part of the state.

"The (North Dakota) yields were very good, with some fields yielding 3,000 pounds or more per acre," said Barry Coleman, executive director of the Bismarck, N.D.-based Northern Canola Growers Association.

To put the average 2018 yield into perspective: Area canola growers once considered 2,000 pounds per acre in an individual field to be outstanding.

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Canola, first introduced in Canada in 1974, was adopted by Upper Midwest farmer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over time, better seed varieties and farmers' improving skill at raising canola have boosted yields sharply, Coleman said.

Despite annual fluctuations, planted acres have been rising, too. Farmers in the state planted about 1.59 million acres in 2018, the same as a year earlier but up from 1.35 million acres in 2010.

Historically, North Dakota canola production was focused in the north-central part of the state. Over time, canola has picked up acres in northwest North Dakota and, thanks to a canola processing plant in the northwest Minnesota town of Hallock, in neighboring northeast North Dakota, too, Coleman said.

Poor soybean prices could encourage North Dakota farmers to plant even more canola in 2019. Both crops are oilseeds, and some farmers could decide to substitute canola on fields that otherwise might go to soybeans,

"There's been strong interest," Coleman said.

However, there's a close correlation between soybean and canola prices, so the price of the latter isn't particularly attractive, either.

Canola primer

Canada is the world's leading producer and exporter of canola, a contraction of "Canadian oil, low acid"-or can o la.

Canola seeds are crushed to produce oil and meal. Its meal is used to feed livestock, especially dairy cows, and even as a high-quality organic fertilizer. Its oil has a reputation for being healthy and is in growing demand worldwide. The oil has many nonfood uses, too, including biofuels.

Most of the canola grown in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota is processed at plants in the region and then to sent to U.S. markets, said.

But the U.S. also imports a large amount of canola from Canada, as does China. Now, China is restricting imports of canola from Canada, which puts downward pressure on the price of Canadian canola and consequently on U.S. canola, too.

Strong and growing domestic demand for canola, however, continues to brighten the long-term outlook for canola, Coleman said.