Approximately 85,000 acres of winter canola is growing this spring in Oklahoma, North Texas and Kansas. A significant portion of the Southern Plains crop, nearly 5,000 acres, is planted near Chillicothe, Texas.
Russell Young, who farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas with his father, John, and brother, Robby, decided on several good reasons to plant that much winter canola.
"First, there is the price we get for winter canola for delivery in Oklahoma City," Russell said. "While several good agronomical reasons exist for growing winter canola, particularly rotating it with winter wheat, winter canola does pay a lot better than wheat."
Right now, 2010 new crop winter canola brings $7.35 per bushel, compared to $4.40 per bushel for July, 2010 winter wheat. Grower contracts are available from the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City.
Winter wheat, the primary money crop grown in the Great Plains has several problems, mainly due to decades of being grown continuously without rotation. Other crops have been available, but none with an established market.
"We have grown wheat for many years," Russell said. "But cheat, wild oats and other weeds have spread more each year. When we harvest wheat there are always weed seeds in the grain that cost us money. The more weed seed present in the grain the more the price drops."
To date, about the only practical method to combat weeds has been to spray with herbicides.
"We started thinking about planting winter canola two years ago," Russell said. "Last fall we planted it for the first time. We planted DeKalb 4615, a Roundup Ready variety plant scientists designed to grow well in this area.
"We know 4615 yields well and have several fields that could produce as much as 2,000 bushels per acre." A top-yielding variety, coupled with plenty of rain has given the Youngs and other winter canola growers prospects of a bumper crop this spring.
While winter canola can be planted and harvested with the same equipment used for wheat, harvesting requires some special attention. Due to the crop's branches with seed pods at the end of each branch, farmers often choose to swath the crop into windrows, let it dry and then use a typical wheat harvester to pick it up.
Another, more unique method of harvest is to "push" the crop. A tractor with a wide bar attached to the front of the implement pushes the plants over, laying them over so there is space between the ground and the plants.
After the pushed crop stays in this position for a time, a wheat harvester picks up the seed.
Young is using GPS technology to improve winter canola harvest this spring. “We will begin harvest in three or four weeks," Russell said. "We’re using GPS units on the tractors we use to push the crop over. That information will direct our combines when we harvest the crop."
This spring is a busy time for the Young family. They will be harvesting winter wheat and canola in Texas and Oklahoma and planting cotton in Texas. They are growing irrigated corn and soybeans in Kansas.
They believe winter canola will be an important addition to the other crops they’ve been growing.