Although pressured by drought, canola keeps growing across much of Oklahoma as farmers search for alternatives to winter wheat and a rotation to help boost the bottom line.

“We’ve seen a remarkable transformation after the region got some rain (in March and April),” says Ron Sholar, executive director of the Great Plains Canola Association, headquartered in Stillwater, Okla. “We’re still behind where we were last year, but we started seeing some full bloom (in early April).”

Oklahoma is again the second largest canola producing state. USDA estimates that Oklahoma growers planted 240,000 acres of canola for the 2013 crop. That compares to 140,000 last year and 100,000 the year before. Nationwide, USDA says farmers planted 1.65 million acres of canola, down from 1.76 million acres for 2012. North Dakota, with 1.23 million acres planted for this year, is by far the leading canola state.

Sholar was part of a canola tour over several Oklahoma counties in April. He believes that with the drought conditions that plagued Oklahoma last fall, planted acres may be closer to 200,000.

Many of those acres will be marketed through Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City or additional marketing outlets like facilities in Goodland, Kansas. Gene Neuens, Producers Co-op merchandiser, says growers are looking at early cash contracts in the $11.50 to $12 per bushel range. But contracts could increase if oil seed stocks are reduced.

“Generally, we have a better price in May through July because we are the only oil seed being harvested,” Neuens says.

He says early field observations indicate that growers in some areas will produce from 1,600 to 1,800 pounds or about 30 to 40 bushels per acre. “We’ve seen some fields that have been zeroed-out (for crop insurance due to drought) to some that will yield 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre,” Neuens says.

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The drought will still take its toll on some growers, even as the spring rains push the crop along. “We’re not sure how many acres we have lost to the drought,” Sholar says. “I’m not sure if our harvested acres will be down 15, 20 or 25 percent.”

Harvest will begin in South Texas in early May and be in full swing in Central Texas by mid-May. Oklahoma harvest will likely begin in late May and continue into June.