DRIVE west from Oklahoma City on Interstate 40. After crossing the Canadian River, your eyes will lift to the tops of the magnificent windmills near Weatherford. Look down and you'll see fields of yellow flowers as breathtaking as the woodland redbuds were a month ago.
What is this stuff of which we were blissfully unaware?
Oklahoma farmers, not town gardeners, are responsible for the sea of yellow. They're planting and harvesting canola in increasing numbers, the result of a decade-long effort at Oklahoma State University to promote an alternative crop to winter wheat.
Canola, once a trademarked name derived from blending “Canada” and “oil,” is used for cooking oil that's low in saturated fat. It's related to a plant called rapeseed, a name derived not from “rape” but from a Latin derivative for turnip. Canola's detractors, however, think “rape” is apt: The plant can be quite weedy.
Quite beautiful is how we'd describe it. Winter wheat in early spring has a beauty all its own, with its tendency to wave in the wind. But it's hard to spot a green wheatfield a mile or more away. Even three miles out, canola can't be missed at this time of year. Those yellow blooms make it unmistakable. But they won't last long.
Enid is developing into a center for Oklahoma canola production. Northstar Agri Industries plans to build a $200 million canola processing plant there. In late March, Enid hosted a “Canola College” symposium for new and veteran canola producers associated with the Great Plains Canola Association. But canola's economic impact, and processing of the crop, aren't confined to the Enid area.