Decades of continuous wheat production helped create infestations of perennial weeds like cheatgrass, winter rye and other plants whose population grew each year in wheat fields.

As the weeds spread throughout the Plains states, farmers found that herbicide application was often too expensive to control the weeds.

OSU weed scientist, Dr. Tom Peeper, along with other agronomists at OSU and Kansas State University and seed production companies, began a cooperative effort six years ago to develop winter canola as a viable solution to the winter wheat weed problem.

Scientists found winter canola, an oilseed crop, featured good growing characteristics for the same areas where wheat had been grown for decades. Canola has a large taproot able to seek deep soil moisture in dryland farming conditions, and when planted after wheat it breaks up the growth cycle of the weeds competing with wheat.

Growers are losing less to dockage when they follow canola with wheat. Weed seeds found in wheat seed taken to market when the wheat is harvested each spring will sharply reduce prices paid for wheat.

Canola also has proven a marketing success.

When winter canola was first planted in enough acres to help control weeds in winter wheat, finding a reliable market for the crop was difficult; some of the larger canola producers sent seed as far as Mexico to be processed.

Marketing problems were solved when the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill, which has been processing cottonseed for varied markets for more than 64 years, entered the canola marketing arena.

Now, farmers have local grain terminals where they can deliver canola seed, bought by PCOM. Prices paid for canola usually run $2 to $3 per bushel more than winter wheat. Currently, cash price for winter canola is $9.45 per bushel compared to $6.92 per bushel for winter wheat.

Winter canola production in the Southern Plains is expected to increase as more farmers place it in their diversified crop program, Neuens said.