A new trait being incorporated into canola will help it use more availabe nitrogen and increase yields.

According to Arcadia Biosciences, the Davis, CA, firm that originally acquired the Canadian-developed technology in 2002, field trials that it conducted in Canada, North Dakota and Minnesota have demonstrated that nitrogen-use-efficient (NUE) canola can maintain normal yields using as little as half the normal nitrogen rate.

“That means there is 50% less nitrogen that is lost as a pollutant, and that is a major benefit to the environment,” says Eric Rey, president and CEO of Arcadia Biosciences. “It's not just the excess N that enters waterways through runoff, but air pollution from nitrous oxide, which is a major greenhouse gas that's 300% as potent as carbon dioxide.”

This new trait will allow farmers to use the same amount of nitrogen but get a 15 to 25% yield increase, he adds.

With such promising research results, the biotech company licensed the trait to Monsanto for incorporation into its elite canola lines. According to Luke Bozeman, Monsanto canola traits lead, this past season's field trials were positive. “Despite a somewhat challenging season, with a wet spring and high temperatures during crop flowering, we saw a 10% yield increase, and sometimes greater, in spring canola with this new trait,” he says.

NUE canola, now in the company's phase II of development, is three to seven years away from introduction, Bozeman says, adding that Monsanto's development of the trait is currently focused on increasing crop yield.

Rey says his company has already successfully incorporated the NUE trait into rice and wheat and is working with other crops, including corn, soybeans, barley, sugar beets and cotton.

Increasing crop efficiency will mean greater profitability for farmers and major benefits for the global environment, Rey says. “Nitrogen fertilizer accounts for one-third of the greenhouse gases produced by agriculture,” he says. “By cutting in half the amount of nitrogen that goes unused by the plant, we'll be significantly reducing the nitrogen fertilizer that is lost every year due to leaching into the air, soil and waterways.”