Kyle McIntyre, along with his brother, Brent, and father, Pat, have been searching for a crop to rotate with winter wheat. Canola just might fit the bill.

"Winter canola is a critical crop for the future of plains wheat growers," Kyle said.

Twenty seven years old, the Temple, Okla., farmer started growing winter canola four years ago. "Canola provided an option where we can use the same planting and harvesting equipment we use with wheat," Kyle said. "That is a big help considering the cost of new and good used farming equipment.

"When you figure canola has a better price paid to farmers than wheat and there is an active market to buy it here in Oklahoma, the crop looks even more attractive."

Kyle is talking about canola contracts offered by the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City and the close proximity of grain terminals where harvested seed can be taken.

Other factors convinced the McIntyre family to start growing winter canola.

"Winter wheat is a staple for plains farmers," he said. "Wheat is now grown continuously in all of the Plains states. Following this routine for decades brought in several problems that accompany continuous wheat.

"There is the Hessian fly that feeds on the plant," he said. "And a lot of weeds grow in wheat fields. If you grow wheat, you have seeds from cheat, ryegrass, winter grass, rescue grass or wild oats. When you sell your crop, if any of these weed seeds are in your wheat, the price you get will be reduced."

Planting winter canola after wheat will stop these weeds from coming back year after year, he said. Planting canola will help farmers get away from using expensive herbicides to control these weeds, too. Winter canola plants have large taproots that leave the soil in good shape for replanting in no-till fields, Kyle said.

Most of the new winter canola varieties are Roundup Ready, tolerant to herbicide weed control measures many farmers use.

Kyle said his best canola right now is DKW 4110, a Roundup Ready variety.

"It is a winter hardy variety," he said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but so far the variety has demonstrated great drought tolerance, too.”

Kyle is convinced winter canola offers the best answer for wheat farmers to find a new crop they can rotate with wheat that has an active market, places to dump grain where the seed can be processed and that has demonstrated weed cleanup following wheat.

"I can see just growing canola by itself," he said. "Canola responds to good management. This year will give me some better answers about its yield potential in long-term dry conditions."

Kyle was introduced to winter canola production by Alan Mindemann, an Apache, Okla., farmer who is certified by the American Society of Agronomists as a crop advisor.

"I met Alan, rode around with him, listened to his presentations at several seminars and I saw the results of what properly managed winter canola can do by watching him," Kyle said. "Alan is my mentor. We talk frequently about our crops and how to better management them."

Mindemann also likes the advantages offered by winter canola.

"Growing winter canola is a serious, hands-on, full-time job," Mindemann said. "From the time you plant it until you harvest it successfully, you must be aware of several important factors to get the job done right."

Harvesting winter canola makes up most of the learning portion of growing it, Mindemann said.

Farmers like Mindemann and McIntyre are looking at a completely new way to prepare mature canola for harvest.

Mindemann and McIntyre, along with several other canola growers, will be using a "pusher" to place the mature crop into a windrow before harvesting.

The pusher is a bar the same length as a regular grain combine header. It has an oval surface with sickles at each end of the bar. The sickles mark off a typical 36-foot swath and the oval bar presses the stalks down, forming a windrow.

After windrows are formed with the maturing canola plants, combines harvest the grain — small, round shiny seeds.

Canola seed is primarily used to make high-quality cooking oil. A Texas A&M Extension nutrition specialist, Dr. Sharon Robinson, said, "Canola has the lowest levels of saturated fat among cooking oils and no transfat. It is rich in Vitamin E and essential fatty acids, nutrients needed to help maintain human health. It has more Vitamin E than peanut, corn or olive oil."

The oil has other uses and the meal can be used for livestock feed.

Farmers are encouraged to find out more about growing winter canola. Just contact the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill at 1-405-232-7555 and ask for Gene Neuens or Brandon Winters. They can be emailed at bwinters@producerscoop.net and cscneuens@yahoo.com.