Enthusiasm and vigor for the rapidly growing canola industry produced a bountiful turnout of intrigued farmers at the Winter Canola Risk Management School on March 13 in Concordia, Kan.
Kansas canola production experts — some of whom have been producing their own fields of canola for the past two years — shared their knowledge about growing the crop in north central Kansas during the meeting, hosted by Kansas State University’s River Valley Research and Extension District.
Canola oil is increasing in popularity and in demand for cooking, similar to the wave of interest that preceded for sunflower oil.
With 80 percent of canola still imported into the U.S., many of the 65 farmers in attendance are merely growing fields of knowledge when it comes to canola.
“It’s unknown yet whether we will farm canola. We’re here to find out options. We’re open to new and better farming methods,” shared Lynda Tobald, who, with her husband, John, farms wheat, soybeans and milo and has a cattle operation in Glasco, Kan.
Landowner Mary McCabe of Beloit, Kan., too, was eager to soak up information about the crop that’s growing in interest.
“Winter hardiness is my major concern in north central Kansas. We also have no local delivery points,” noted McCabe, who attended the canola meeting with her farmer, Tom Denere.
But, “yes, we plan to begin growing canola,” said Denere.
One of the experts at the canola meeting, Mike Stamm, has successfully grown winter canola for the past two and a half years through his variety trials at Kansas State University’s North Central Kansas Research Field, west of Belleville, Kan. He acknowledged that the prolonged cold 2013-2014 winter in Kansas and throughout the Plains was a challenge for canola’s winter hardiness.
“Before you make your final decision on what kind of survival you have, let the crop start to re-grow, and make sure that if you’re seeing winterkill, that it is, in fact, what it is. If you go look in the fields now, you can find green plants there, and we have to remember that even if the canola crop has a thin stand, that it can compensate and still produce a nice, respectable yield,” said Mike Stamm, Kansas State University Research and Extension canola breeder, and associate agronomist.
“It has been a tougher year,” he continued, “because of the colder temperatures, and we haven’t had a test of survival like this in the last 10 years. We’re learning a lot about the cultivars we can grow in north central Kansas, so for those who have canola, don’t write it off too soon.”
Stamm told The Fence Post, that winter canola has proven to be a profitable crop for Kansas producers in recent years, leading to a need for further education.
Stamm said canola can be grown as far north as the Nebraska Panhandle, but is only planted on limited acres in Nebraska.
“If you have soil moisture, plant early,” he advised.
Regarding the appropriate seeding rate, Stamm recommended three and a half to five pounds of seed for 15 inches or less in row spacing.
Stamm suggested canola plants need:
• 6 to 8 true leaves.
• 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch root diameter.
• An extensive root system.
When comparing last year’s data to this year’s, Stamm said that some varieties which performed really well last year probably won’t do as well this year.
“We just didn’t test the survival of the crop like we did this year, but we recommend using all the data gathered to make a good decision about what to plant,” said Stamm. “Definitely look at the varieties that have been developed by the K-State program.”
In a handbook written in part by Stamm, canola is defined as being, “a type of edible rapeseed, genetically low in erucic acid and glucosinolates. The seeds are sources of healthy cooking oil and high-protein meal for livestock.”
Stamm said there are options in the future to develop and offer brands with high-oleic acid, which is an Omega 9 monounsaturated fat that experts say lowers cholesterol, and doesn’t thicken up and gum-up equipment.
Another speaker at the canola meeting focused on canola establishment practices.
“Canola greens up slower than winter wheat. Peak of nutrient uptake (such as nitrogen and potassium) and water use is around the flowering time. Any biotic (pests) or biotic (drought or heat) stresses affecting canola around flowering will be indefinitely impacting the final yields.
Additionally, we recommend even planting depth and adequate moisture at planting, which are critical. Also, keep the crown (of the plant) close to the surface,” advised Ignacio Ciampitti, assistant professor at the Agronomy Department at Kansas State University, and a crop production and state cropping systems specialist.
Regarding the ideal planting date in north central Kansas, Ciampitti provided the following recommendations:
• In north central Kansas, plant Sept. 1-15.
• In south central Kansas – plant Sept. 10-25.
• In southwest Kansas – plant Aug. 25-Sept. 15.
• Plant nine to 10 weeks prior to a killing frost (25 degrees.)
• Also, as a rule of thumb, plant one month earlier than winter wheat.
Ciampitti advised the packed crowd that potential for winter survival is increased when the canola plants show these signs:
• 6 inches to 12 inches of top growth.
• Stem length remains unchanged, but has thickened.
• Hardened winter canola can withstand temperatures less than 0 degrees F.
“For the plant population study, using open pollination varieties, we did not see any consistent trend, which also demonstrates the plasticity of the crop to compensate for low plant populations. Still, during this current year, we are investigating the effect of the new canola ‘hybrids’ under diverse plant populations. Thus, more information related to this topic will be available soon after harvesting this crop,” Ciampitti told The Fence Post.
Narrow rows resulted in greater winter survival than wide rows in a southwest Kansas study from Garden City, Kan. Using a hoe opener or coulter improved the yield.
“However, row spacing is less important than just doing everything else right,” declared Ciampitti.
Regarding residue management, Ciampitti said it resulted in greater fall vigor of canola plants and greater resistance to fall freezes, although it had no effect on stand establishment and the amount of fall growth.
Burning provided about the same effects as other methods of residue removal, although it did leave about 40 percent of the total residue weight remaining.
“We feel that it’s not necessary to till, in order to realize benefits of residue removal. The most important thing to keep in mind is moving the residue out of the seed furrow. Canola does not like residue in the furrow,” Ciampitti told the crowd.
In his summary, Ciampitti concluded the following:
• Planting date and cultivar are two of the most important components for successful establishment of canola, fall vigor, winter survival and yield.
• If no-till planting canola, plant on the early side of the planting window.
• Since row spacing didn’t ultimately create larger yields, producers may consider wider rows to help in precise seed metering and residue management.
Following the canola presentations and lunch at Heavy’s Barbeque, the five dozen farmers traveled to a nearby canola field planted in late 2013 by Brad Berk, a rural Concordia farmer.
“Two of the three varieties that I planted will be okay. We’ll know more soon. It’s just starting to come out of dormancy now,” said Berk, who also farms corn, soybeans and a little wheat. “We’ve got plans to plant more canola this fall. It’s a different growing season than the corn and soybeans, so we kind of split up our risk a little bit. They grow through the summer, but the canola grows through the winter, and it’s still related to the oil seed market, like soybeans, which I like.”
“The canola plants look a little bit rougher, because we have lost some plants (in the unusually cold winter),” said Stamm after observing Berk’s canola field. “We’ll know in the next couple of weeks, as the plants start to re-grow. At K-State Research and Extension, we’re committed to providing both new and experienced producers the tools necessary to manage the agronomics and marketing of winter canola.”
The day-long presentation and field trip enabled farmers to glean insight into a possible new field of dreams.
“What a great opportunity for crop producers and those involved in the agriculture industry to get a detailed overview of winter canola production and its possibilities in North Central Kansas. Winter canola has proven successful the past two years at K-State’s North Central Kansas Experiment Field. I am happy to see the interest in our area for learning about incorporating winter canola into cropping rotations here,” said Kim Larson, crop production agent, with K-State’s Research and Extension River Valley District.
After the presentation, several farmers told The Fence Post, they’re no longer “on the fence” about canola.
For farmer Fred Severance — who farms wheat, milo and soybeans in Asherville, Kan., just southwest of Concordia — the canola spring meeting was a golden opportunity to learn ... and grow.
“I’m seriously considering farming canola,” said Severance.
So are the Tobalds.
“I would encourage producers to use the data that we’re going to generate out of the Belleville location this year, to help with their variety selection,” said Stamm. “So, don’t give up on it, if you’ve got a crop out there in the field.” ❖