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Winter canola production growing

Winter canola production in the southern Great Plains has come a long way in just six years.

From developing new varieties and production methods to finding a reliable, lucrative market, a lot has been accomplished in a short time.

With 2010-2011 crop planting nearly completed, reliable estimates say more than 100,000 acres, maybe as much as 115,000 acres, have been put into the ground in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Texas.

Winter canola harvest last spring, following a favorable winter growing period, made 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of canola per acre.

These yields, coupled with $7.80-plus per bushel for the tiny, dark-brown seeds, sparked a lot of interest among prospective growers attending summer production meetings throughout the area.

Growers with winter canola recently planted in their fields have a lot going for them this coming crop year as well.

Information disseminated by land-grant universities, seed companies and marketing entities continue to provide more pertinent production information. This evolution of information is particularly important to growers planting their first canola crop this fall.

Developed nearly six years ago by Kavvnsas State and Oklahoma State University agronomists seeking new ways to reduce problem weeds growing in continuously cropped wheat, it was decided to emphasize research on a money crop with different characteristics that could be grown in rotation with winter wheat.

Canola, a spring oilseed crop grown in Canada and northern US states, can be farmed with the same equipment as wheat, but it is a completely different crop with distinct agronomic characteristics requiring additional production skills.

Both spring and winter types produce a seed with a high oil content. When processed, the oil is a source of healthy, lowfat cooking oil and for biofuels.

Crop breeders created new varieties designed to grow in cool seasons that could be planted in fields where winter wheat had been planted. The new crop, with a large taproot enabling it to find scarce moisture in plains soils, interrupts the growth cycle of such undesirable weeds as cheatgrass, wild oats and rye. When winter wheat is harvested, the wheat seed is infested with the seeds from these weeds. When marketed, presence of these weed seeds in the wheat sharply reduces the price paid wheat farmers.

New winter canola varieties with Roundup Ready gene capability that helps the farmer better control weeds when preparing a seedbed are doing a good job growing under dryland conditions where soil moisture is always an important factor in making a crop.

The last important development was creating a reliable, competitive regional market close to where the crop is grown. Producers Cooperative Oil Mill, located in Oklahoma City, Okla., stepped up to the plate to give canola growers a place to market their crop.

Working with area-wide grain terminals where farmers can take their canola seed, PCOM not only buys canola seed for processing, it also offers farmers growing contracts for canola. A farmer-owned, multi-state cooperative with more than 61 years of service to farmers producing cottonseed, another important source of high-grade cooking oil and many other uses, prices paid for canola seed by PCOM further enhance it as an important commodity farmers can utilize as a reliable money crop.

New canola growers are told by production experts planting and growing the crop requires more attention and hands-on skills than typical winter wheat production.

From proper seedbed preparation, calibrating seeding drills for proper planting depth and row spacing, selecting different fertilizer ratios and application timing, pest control skills and selecting the best way to harvest canola due to weather conditions are all important knowledge skills demanded of growers willing to add winter canola to their basket of commodities grown in the southern plains.

Happily, new winter canola growers have a wide range of informational sources and knowledgeable people to help them successfully put a bumper crop in the bin.

Winter canola is grown across many different state boundaries, sometimes with one farmer planting the crop in two or three different states.

Agricultural Extension personnel working for Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M University cooperate with each other to the benefit of farmers in each of the states.

What could be called the bible of winter canola production in the Southern Great Plains is the Winter Canola Handbook, edited and produced each year by KSU, OSU and the University of Nebraska. The handbook's information is updated each year and made available as the research report of the Oklahoma-Kansas Winter Canola conference held in July at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Enid. Copies of the handbook, an invaluable compendium of winter canola production, harvesting and marketing, can be obtained by contacting the OSU County Extension director in your county, any of the people listed in this article and by contacting Producers Cooperative Oil Mill at 405-232-7555 or producerscoop.net.

Other valuable information for anyone interested in winter canola production can be obtained on the web at the Okanola link page at okstate.edu or plainsoilseedproducts.com.

Oklahoma winter canola producers are represented by the Oklahoma Oilseed Commission which oversees a checkoff fund to support development of new winter canola production methods.

Members of the commission are Kelly Chain, Alan Mindemann, Lee Leeper, Brent Rendel and Brent Thompson.

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