Agronomists at the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City predict more than 200,000 acres of winter canola will be planted in the next 30 days in the Southern Plains.

Heath Sanders, a PCOM agronomist, says the window of opportunity for planting the 2011 canola crop began Sept. 10. Past agronomic research has determined the ideal time to plant canola is from Sept. 10 through Oct. 20. This year may provide some unusual planting challenges, considering the ongoing major drought. Sanders says farmers should follow some essential practices before planting.

"Canola producers should be taking soil samples, applying fertilizer and finishing the last round of tillage before planting." he said. "Most Oklahoma soils that have been worked are dry, loose and fluffy. A good settling rain would do wonders in preparing this soil for planting.

"Residue management is a key for canola planted in no-till fields. But producers need to get everything ready for planting, regardless of what method they use. The timeline for planting canola this year looks more challenging than past years due to the extreme dry conditions. Having the soil prepared, seed picked up and drills calibrated will allow producers to get in the field and get the crop planted."

Sanders says weed pressures this year could be greater if any rainfall occurs across the state. Since weather conditions have been dry, cool season annual weeds have not had a chance to germinate, he said. Producers need to start scouting fields and checking for weeds early this fall. "Winter canola doesn't compete very well when the crop is in its seedling stage so it is very important to scout fields and make herbicide applications early in the fall if it is needed," he said. "A good rule of thumb, under normal growing conditions, is to apply herbicides four to six weeks after the canola has been planted."

Producers also should be scouting fields for diamondback moth larvae and army cutworms. If insect pressures are high, a tank mix with the herbicide application may be feasible.

Farmers who intend to plant winter canola should know about using row crop planters to seed canola, rather than using grain drills common to planting winter wheat.

Dr. Randy Taylor, Oklahoma State University agricultural engineer, has developed guidelines for adapting sorghum planter plates for canola. Taylor says he’s seen some interest in using row crop planters to seed winter canola. With the assistance of  "innovative producers and a little testing, we have developed guidelines for adapting sorghum plates to meter canola with a John Deere vacuum planter," he said.

No-till planting

Research by Taylor and OSU agronomists Dr. Chad Godsey and Mark Boyles evaluates planting canola in no-till fields.

Producers can be successful planting no-till winter canola, but should pay careful attention to seeding depth. Seed should be placed from one-half inch to one-inch deep. If the seedbed is uneven, plant the seed at one inch to assure good seed to soil contact. Do not plant seed in crop residue, they say.

Do not attempt to plant in residue that’s not evenly distributed across the soil surface, as in a windrow left behind a combine after harvest, they say. If necessary, perform a light tillage.

OSU experts also recommend increasing seeding rates by 15 percent to 20 percent in no-till production. This practice is often recommended when a heavy amount of crop residue is left in no-till fields after harvest.

Remove as much residue from the seed row as possible. Switching to a "wavy" coulter on the planter may increase soil disturbance and remove residue from the crop row, they say.

It is wise to have sufficient down force on row units so they function correctly. They advise producers to get off their tractors often to check seeding rate and depth as seeding conditions often change in each field.

Pay attention to advised planting dates and plant early in the "planting window" for the region where you are farming. They caution against planting winter canola in new no-till fields. Fields in which no-till has been practiced longer will have better soil structure and lower bulk densities of residue in the soil that will promote root growth.

Choose a winter canola variety with excellent winter hardiness and low crown development. Varieties with crowns closer to the soil surface overwinter better.

The OSU specialists say these suggestions will not guarantee successful no-till winter canola production, but should improve chances of success if farmers have no other options.

For direct assistance in planting and growing winter canola, producers can contact Heath Sanders and Gene Neuens at PCOM at 405-232-7555begin_of_the_skype_highlightingend_of_the_skype_highlighting. Sanders' email is hsanders@producerscoop.net. Neuens' email is cscneuens@yahoo.com.