Development of winter canola as a viable crop for rotation with winter wheat in the Southern Plains started more than six years ago and Bob Schrock, who farms near Kiowa, Kan., only a few miles from the Oklahoma border, was there when the idea of developing a new crop began.

He is a disciple of Dr. Tom Peeper, Warth Distinguished Professor for small grain weed control at Oklahoma State University. Peeper started the winter canola project while seeking more effective ways to reduce the persistent spread of weeds in winter wheat in the Southern Plains. "Originally, we were planting canola varieties with winter kill problems and other obstacles we had to overcome," Schrock remembers. "Also, we didn't have a dependable market for the crop. I have gone as far as Mexico to sell and process canola."

Winter canola varieties that work well in southern Kansas now are DeKalb 4110, 4615 and 4715k, Schrock says. Other popular varieties are Land O' Lakes W110 and W115. Schrock says modern winter canola varieties with good yield potential and Roundup Ready genes permit a longer period for weed control. He says his hometown, like a lot of other locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Texas, has become a winter canola production center whose range widens each year as more farmers plant the crop. "We have about 10,000 acres of winter canola growing in a 20 mile circle around Kiowa this year," Schrock says. "Along with me, Bob Blevins, Scott Matthews, Paul Harbaugh, Sam Spires and several other farmers are growing canola in rotation with winter wheat." Schrock says the 2010 canola crop looks good. A wet winter and spring has given the plants plenty of moisture.

Harvest begins soon for more than 85,000 acres nearly ready for harvest in North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to USDA planting data. Schrock and other growers formed Plains Oilseed Producers cooperative to promote canola. The Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City, Okla., provided farmers a place to sell and process the crop. As an oilseed with high oil content, canola is sought as a healthy cooking oil and as a source for biofuels. Schrock says winter canola production allows wheat farmers to use the same planting and harvesting equipment. A two or three year rotation with wheat breaks the persistent weed cycle of cheat, wild oats and other weeds. Winter canola offers another advantage, too, Schrock says. "Farmers are trying to do a better job of protecting farmland and reducing production costs," he says. "Most of us use no-till to reduce soil erosion and repetitious plowing. A lot of farmers who haven't completely gone to no-till are gradually moving from aggressive tillage to a minimum tillage program such as stubble mulching. But with most of us, the goal is to do away with plowing the ground completely. "Moving from a complete tillage program to no-till takes time," he says. "I have been in no-till for three years. Most knowledgeable farmers say the complete benefits of no-till will take from seven to ten years. It takes time for soil to rebuild. No-till allows us to keep the ground covered with stubble or residue from the previous crop and keeps moisture in the field, preventing runoff." No-till gives a new crop more porous soil for roots to penetrate to moisture and provides a cooler ground temperature.

"Growing winter canola, with its other advantages, has helped me move more rapidly into a no-till farm program," Schrock says. He has 2,600 acres of winter canola this year. A custom farmer and operator, Schrock owns modern farming equipment so he can plant and harvest crops for other landowners. He’s carried the winter canola ideal to his neighbors. "We see winter canola acreage expanding each year as a crop to rotate with winter wheat," he says. Schrock is a member of the local farmer cooperative, serving as vice president of the OK Grain Cooperative at Kiowa, Kan.