Winter canola helps control winter wheat weed problems
By Vic Schoonover
Some believe there are no more pioneers, but that is not so. There are modern pioneers who, while not traveling the plains in a covered wagon, are just as important to the future of the Great Plains as their forebears who made the "Run in '89."
Jeff Scott is one of those modern agriculture pioneers. He and a handful of other progressive farmers were bold enough to place their land and operating funds on the line to help establish a new crop in the Southern Plains.
That crop is winter canola, a genetically enhanced crop developed as the result of a land-grant university agronomist's search for a better way to combat a serious problem in winter wheat production in the Southern Plains states.
The agronomist, Tom Peeper, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University weed scientist, sought a better way to remove persistent weeds growing in winter wheat continuously cropped for decades.
Almost a decade ago, Peeper asked Scott and other willing wheat farmers to help him grow enough acres of winter canola to prove canola would control these weed problems when grown commercially over a large area in big wheat country.
Scott, believing in Peeper's research and realizing the wheat he harvested was losing money when marketed due to the presence of unwanted weed seed, helped plant the first winter canola varieties available to farmers.
Developed from spring canola varieties widely grown in Canada and northern U.S. farms, the first varieties had winter survival problems, were in short supply and had literally no place to be successfully marketed.
More research yielded better varieties with improved winter hardiness, better yielding qualities and a genetic ability to tolerate chemical weed control.
Scott is a founder and president of the Great Plains Canola Association, a farmer cooperative dedicated to promoting canola production in that area. He also serves with the U.S. Canola Association, the national organization for all U.S. canola production.
This year, Scott has 1,500 acres of winter canola and 1,500 acres of winter wheat planted on his farm. While it is common for wheat farmers to rotate winter canola with wheat in a one-to-three or four ratio of canola to wheat, Scott started planting one-half of his acres to canola and the the other half to wheat, rotating the crops each year.
"I had pretty well cleaned up the weeds in my wheat fields," Scott said, "but recently, I began to find a lot of rye in the wheat I planted. I started the 50-50 canola-wheat rotation to get rid of the rye as quickly as possible.'
Scott planted three canola varieties this year with the majority of his acres producing DKW 4410 and 4615, both Roundup Ready varieties. The rest of his canola acreage is planted with Cropland 125, he said.
Along with his winter canola production program, Scott is a true believer in no-till farming.
"I have been practicing no-till for 13 years now," he said. "We are just now seeing the real benefits of no-till practices pay off for us. Rotating canola with winter wheat in a no-till operation is a natural so far as I am concerned. I have seen our fields increase in productivity during the last decade. There is less water runoff, less soil erosion and soil nutrients are retained better with no-till farming."
Scott's no-till program includes corn, milo and some hay production, he said.
While there is some fear of a pending drought in the near future in Scott's general area, overall, he has adequate soil moisture for his growing crops.
"We can always use another rain," Scott said. "My wheat and canola are holding their own. Both crops got a good start at planting time and are growing well now. Most of my canola has reached dormancy with the colder weather we have now. I believe it is at at the right stage, with continuing rainfall, to start growing good in the spring."
For best canola production, in the fall Scott puts down 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Applying anhydrous ammonia, he uses knives on his equipment to place it 8 to 10 inches deep in the soil. In January, he will apply 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen plus 20 to 30 pounds of sulfur and one-half pound of boron per acre to boost the growing canola crop.
"I am a real believer in using boron to increase canola productivity," he said. "We have seen in controlled tests where a half pound of boron will improve canola's winter hardiness."
Last year, applying boron increased canola yield an extra 15 bushels per acre in one field, he said.
Producers Cooperative Oil Mill, located at Oklahoma City, Okla., has provided Southern Plains canola growers with a reliable market for their crop. PCOM's providing a strong, local market for the crop enables farmers to have plenty of grain terminals where they can deliver their crop. In a win-win situation, canola seed usually sells $3.50 per bushel more than winter wheat. Currently, winter canola is selling for $10.05 cents per bushel compared to $7.94 per bushel for winter wheat.
Scott believes in the future of winter canola as an important cash crop that can effectively help winter wheat growers combat persistent weeds that depreciate wheat prices. "We really like the combination of a new crop that helps us agronomically and financially," he said.