Approximately 150 winter wheat growers representing Oklahoma and Kansas attending a winter canola production meeting Tuesday in Midwest City, Okla., heard presentations from Land Grant University agronomists, grain marketing experts and fellow farmers who have successfully grown the new crop.

One of the most interesting presentations for people unfamiliar with growing winter canola was given by Dr. Tom Peeper, Oklahoma State University weed scientist emeritus. Recognized as the person most responsible for introducing winter canola as a positive addition to Southern Plains agriculture, most of Peeper's career focused on finding effective ways to combat the persistent weed problem in continuously-grown winter wheat in the Southern Plains.

Such weeds as ryegrass, feral rye and cheat grass now infest most farms producing winter wheat in the Southern Plains. Winter wheat is the most important crop grown in the area and weed seed in sharply reduces the price farmers receive for their grain. Weed infestation in winter wheat is recognized as a serious problem by regional wheat producer organizations.

Peeper, working with other university agronomists and private companies, discovered canola, an oilseed crop grown in the northern United States and Canada, could be tweaked into a winter crop and when rotated with winter wheat, sharply reduced the weed population in the wheat.

Peeper outlined the similarities and differences between canola and winter wheat.

Canola adapted to Southern Plains

Both crops are fall-seeded, farmed with the same equipment and adapted to the drier climates of the Southern Plains.

"Custom harvesters are familiar with harvesting both crops," Peeper said, "and they have the necessary equipment to put both wheat and canola in the bin."

He said both winter canola and wheat are handled by local grain elevators with the number of delivery points at harvest growing larger each year. He also explained crop insurance is available for both winter canola and winter wheat producers.

"Plant breeders are working hard to improve canola and wheat varieties for better yields and improved ability to grow in Southern Plains cropping conditions," he said. “Canola is an oilseed crop with a high oil content in demand for healthy cooking oil production and for biofuels. It has a large taproot that reaches deep into the soil to find soil moisture and improves soil tilth to help rotation crops, he said.

Canola prices are affected by soybean prices; wheat prices are affected by corn prices, he said.

"Winter canola has a narrower planting time than winter wheat," Peeper said. "While wheat can be planted into late fall, Sept. 10 to Oct. 10 is the best time to ensure a good stand of canola."

Winter canola, unlike winter wheat, is not a dual purpose crop. "Winter canola shouldn't be grazed," he said.

Current prices paid for winter canola average three dollars per bushel more prices for winter wheat, he said.

Demands attention

Winter canola demands more careful, consistent management from farmers producing it. This is particularly true when inspecting the crop for insect infestations and during harvest.

"Since over-wintering canola lies close to the ground, farmers inspecting their fields for insect problems need to look under the plants growing close to the soil and inspect plants across each field."

At harvest, winter canola is a densely-growing crop with lots of heavy seed pods. To make sure all of the seed is harvested, it must be combined when the crop isn't too wet or too dry. Farmers have found either pushing the crop over into a leaning position for combining or swathing it before combining is preferable to straight combining like wheat, Peeper said.

Along with Peeper's presentation, farmers heard about what equipment is best for farming the crop and how to market their canola for a top price.

After the meeting, which was hosted by High Plains Journal and DeKalb Seed Co., meeting participants were given a tour of the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill, an Oklahoma City oil mill with more than 60 years of service processing cottonseed products for North Texas, Oklahoma and  Kansas cotton growers. PCOM canola representatives informed growers attending the meeting about grower contracts available for the new crop.