· A way to break the wheat disease and insect cycle.

· A chance to control difficult weeds in wheat.

· An opportunity to spread economic risk with a commodity tied to a market other than grain.

· Another avenue into the emerging bio-fuel industry.

Can winter-hardy canola offer all this to Oklahoma wheat growers?

The folks at Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service think so, and they have established a program — OKANOLA — to provide research, education and demonstration to stimulate the development of winter canola as a major profitable rotational crop in the state.

“We have lots of things going for us in terms of canola,” says Tom Peeper, a principle in the OKANOLA program and a professor in the plant and soil sciences department at OSU. “Winter canola has high-quality oil — it’s the lowest in saturated fat of any standard vegetable oil — making it in demand by health-conscious consumers. It also can be used to make bio-diesel; canola has 40 percent oil to soybean’s 18 percent.”

Add to that the fact that canola can be produced with small grains equipment and production costs are similar to winter wheat, and Peeper sees it as having “tremendous potential to help wheat producers.”

OKANOLA has more than 15,000 acres of canola in grower field demonstrations across Oklahoma, and it’s helping researchers and growers work out some kinks in production.

“Preparing a good seedbed is especially important with canola. If it is too soft, the seed gets too deep and it won’t come up,” Peeper says. “Canola needs to be planted from one-half to one inch deep. Often, farmers think they are planting that deep, but they are really going one-and-a-half, two, or even three inches deep. Wheat will still come up if you get it that deep, but canola won’t.”

As far as varieties that work well in Oklahoma, Peeper names Kansas State University-released Wichita and Sumner, Roundup-Ready DKW 13-86 and a new variety from Croplan Genetics, Virginia.

The number of delivery points for canola grown in the Southern Great Plains increases every year, Peeper says, and there is now even a canola crushing plant in Oklahoma.

“It’s in Okeene, and its called Prairie Gold Oil Seeds,” he says. “Out of current Oklahoma production, some goes to Prairie Gold, some goes to Miami, Oklahoma, for use in growing mushrooms in old mines and some is taken to local elevators and then trucked to crushers in North Dakota or Minnesota.”

Peeper foresees the market for canola growing in the future, and considering all the potential benefits to growers, he encourages them to try their hands at it.

“We hope farmers will plant 40, 80, 160 acres — whatever they feel comfortable with — to get their feet wet now,” he says. For more on the OKANOLA program, visit www.canola.okstate.edu/canolaprogram/index.htm on the Web.