Differences in crop growing conditions can vary greatly in less than 10 miles when driving down the highway. "Both of us have been traveling separately in different directions lately," Sanders said. "When we get back to the office, we both agree it is the same everywhere we have been.

"Some places have a little moisture where it rained a few tenths of an inch more than just over the hill and the crop will be green and growing well for the conditions it was planted in. A little farther down the road, we see places where the crop is up and growing, but it needs a drink of water really bad."

Now is when Sanders will begin to talk to his farmers about applying fertilizer to get the crop growing when it comes out of dormancy and begins to grow with longer periods of sunlight. This winter, however, he is cautioning farmers to wait a little bit before making fertilization decisions.

"Applying fertilizer after we get some much-needed moisture will be a better choice for farmers right now," he said.

Southern Plains farmers have adopted winter canola in the past few years for several reasons, Neuens said. "As most farmers know, winter canola came from regular canola, a spring crop grown for a long time in the northern U.S. and Canada. It is an oilseed crop. Canola seed consists of around 41 percent oil content. It is a tiny, black seed which can be processed into nutritious cooking oil, biofuels and livestock feed.

"Land Grant University agronomists at Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University checked out the crop when seeking ways to reduce the presence of perennial weeds in continuously-cropped winter wheat in the Southern Plains."

Decades of growing winter wheat in the Plains states and not rotating with any other crop led to a nightmare for farmers, he said. Weeds like winter rye and cheat grass rapidly spread throughout the region, infesting wheat fields so thoroughly farmers in Kansas and other states often wondered if they were growing weeds or wheat.

"At harvest, farmers began to take a real beating when the price they were paid for wheat was docked due to the weed seed in the loads of wheat trucked in," Neuens said.

Using chemical control to kill weeds in wheat has proven to be a time- and money-consuming practice. Led by OSU weed scientist Dr. Tom Peeper, agronomists found canola, when developed into winter crop varieties so it can be grown at the same time as winter wheat, did a good job of disturbing and stopping the presence of the weeds in wheat the following year. In less than a decade, interest among farmers has grown. Farmers are now growing winter canola in a one- to three-year rotation with wheat to reduce weed pressure.

Aggressive growing characteristics and good prices for canola seed are other good reasons for growing the crop. An effective crop insurance plan for canola has encouraged both established and new farmers to try the crop.