Establishing winter canola as an important money crop in the Southern Plains is a team effort says team member Chad Godsey, Oklahoma State University Extension cropping systems specialist.

Godsey oversees six locations in Oklahoma where he’s recording production and growth characteristics of new winter canola varieties.

He also works closely with farmers who have planted more than 3,000 acres of winter canola this year.

Winter canola test plots have been planted at Altus, Dacoma, Fort Cobb, Hugo, Lahoma and Stillwater, Okla., Godsey said. And in spite of the current dry weather stressing winter field crops, the canola is looking good.

Winter canola varieties in Godsey's test plots have been developed by: Dekalb/Monsanto, St. Louis, Missouri; DL Seeds, Mordien, MB, Canada; Technology Crops Int., Fargo, North Dakota and Kansas State University/Oklahoma State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

"Some varieties have Roundup Ready capabilities," Godsey said.

He also works closely with farmers Matt Gard, Fairview; Alan Mindemann, Apache; Phil Whitworth, Frederick; Kyle McEntire, Walters; and Kevin and Jimmy Kinder, Walters.

Kevin Kinder explained why developing a new crop like winter canola is important to him: "Continuous wheat cropping, growing winter wheat on the same land year after year, did not come about by chance," he said. "Wheat has been the only money crop we could grow year after year.

"As everyone knows, growing the same crop continuously creates problems. In winter wheat, one of the major problems is (controlling) weeds like cheat and winter grass.

"Rotating canola with wheat will stop growth of weeds like wild oats, ryegrass and rescue grass, all weeds that cause serious management problems for Oklahoma farmers. Planting canola will reduce the need for spraying weeds with expensive herbicides and suffering reduced prices when marketing weed-infested grain."

Godsey, a specialist in no-till farming, explains most farmers are using this method to produce winter canola.

"No-till gives farmers the advantages of better retention of soil moisture at all soil depths and reduction of water and wind erosion. No-till does a good job of allowing the soil to build up nutrients and helping farmers save money on fuel, oil and farm equipment use.

"We think winter canola has a promising future in Oklahoma and the Southern Plains," Godsey said. "Canola is an oilseed product and it yields a high quality cooking oil with a high demand from commercial restaurants and consumers."

Canola cooking oil, according to Extension nutrition specialist Sharon Robinson, has the lowest levels of saturated fat among cooking oils and no trans fat. "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 oils," she said.

A consortium of agricultural cooperatives and companies are assisting farmers to get started. The push to start growing the crop began a few years ago when it was decided to develop a winter canola variety. It’s traditionally a spring crop grown in the Northern Plains.

Agricultural seed companies developed new canola varieties that grow in a cool season.

Federal grants to help develop the crop and management techniques were obtained from the USDA by the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Insurance Co., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Plains Oilseed Products Cooperative was formed. Lending institutions and Land Grant university scientists have helped make growing the new crop a reality.

The Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City provides a facility to process the canola seed. Several grain terminals throughout Oklahoma take canola seed at harvest.

Grain combines harvest the crop with some farmers harvesting it like wheat. Others prefer to lay the crop in windrows to dry and then harvest with a combine.

Oklahoma wheat farmers interested in winter canola may contact the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City at 1-405-232-7555 or Godsey at 1-405-744-3389.