Southern Great Plains farmers expect to plant record-breaking canola acreage this fall with estimates ranging from 400,000 to 500,000 acres seeded in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Texas. Some New Mexico farmers are also looking at winter canola.

"There will be more winter canola planted in this region than any other time in the crop's short history," says Gene Neuens, Producers Cooperative Oil Mill oilseed field representative.

"To be eligible for crop insurance the crop must be planted between Sept. 10 and Oct. 10. In most of the area, there is a pretty good supply of moisture in the topsoil to get the seed started."

Winter canola planting season in Kansas started Sept. 1. After returning from several field days in the southern part of the state, Neuens said a lot of winter canola is already planted or will soon be planted.

"Other good news for us is farmers already established in winter canola production have indicated they are increasing their [canola] acres," he said."And we know many farmers are planting canola for the first time this year. Both of these developments, along with seed companies reporting dwindling seed supplies, make us believe this will be a bumper year for canola planted [acreage]."

In 2012, more than 300,000 acres were planted and in spite of the drought and late spring freezes, more than 200,000 acres were reported harvested, he said.

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"Even in drier areas, knowledgeable farmers have learned they can dust in canola seed similar to planting winter wheat," Neuens said. "In order to take advantage of good planting weather, for a long time farmers planted wheat in dry, dusty seed beds, gambling on later rains to germinate the crop and get a stand.

"At first, we preferred to plant canola only when we had sufficient soil moisture to establish a crop," he said. "Recently, drought forced farmers to plant canola in dry fields. Later rain showers provided enough moisture to bring the crop up."

Neuens says farmers farther west and north in Texas and New Mexico plant winter canola. Each succeeding year, the benefits of the crop are encouraging more farmers to plant a field or two to canola.

"After the first year, they see that canola rotated with winter wheat provides several positive effects," Neuens said. "In the first place, the crop was developed by Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University agronomists as a crop intended to rid wheat fields of perennial weeds. Seed from these weeds winds up in harvested wheat and causes severe price dockage and robs the farmers of much-needed income.

Winter canola started as a spring crop in Canada and northern U.S. farm states. Crop breeders changed canola into a cool-season crop. Winter canola is a completely different crop than winter wheat, so agronomists encouraged farmers to begin growing the crop following wheat. When rotated with wheat canola cleans up fields historically infested with weeds.

"Over the past decade or so, we have found canola is best rotated with wheat in a two- or three- year rotation," Neuens said. "It really cleans up wheat fields. At the same time, it is a good money crop and many farmers are growing canola along with wheat, grain sorghum, hay, cotton and corn with all of them bringing a profit to the farmer."

While the price paid for winter canola varies seasonally, its price usually is $3 to $4 dollars per bushels more than prices paid for winter wheat, Neuens said. As of August 29, 2013, winter canola was bringing $10.73 per bushel.

Also of interest on Southwest Farm Press:

Winter canola and no-till farming can be accomplished

Canola a growing alternative crop

Herbicide resistant weeds pose threat to Southwest wheat