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Alternative crops garner a second look

A change in the agriculture picture in the High Plains is bringing several alternative crops back into the spotlight, according to a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.

The growing dairy industry has brought a resurgence of interest in triticale as a forage crop, said Dr. Brent Bean, Extension agronomist in Amarillo. By the same token, the increased focus on biodiesel is bringing more attention to the possibility of growing canola.

Bean showed off variety trials of both crops at the recent Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Team Small Grains Field Day at the North Plains Research Field, located north of Dumas just outside of Etter.

With triticale, a natural hybrid of wheat and rye, producers will need to work with dairies to find a compromise on when to harvest the crop, he said. While the producer may want to wait as long as possible to get more harvested tons, the dairy is looking for a higher protein content, which requires harvesting at an earlier stage.

"I advise you to try to get the dairy to pay you on the protein amount," Bean said. "To me, that's the fair way to do it. That's an incentive for you to harvest earlier and get a premium."

Research on the varieties and production is still ongoing; however, if a producer generally makes a 60-bushel wheat grain crop, then he would be looking at about a 13-ton silage crop yield as it is just beginning to head, he said.

Canola is a new crop to the High Plains.

"Canola needs to be planted at least six weeks before the first hard freeze," he said. "We tried growing canola last year and got the crop planted late. As a result, we lost the crop to a hard freeze the first week of December."

The very small oilseed also can have problems with shattering, Bean said. But some of the positive aspects of canola include the ability to produce 3,000-3,500 pounds per acre with 6 to 10 inches of irrigation water, some potential for grazing, and it can be used to clean up grass problems in a field.

What makes is worth looking at, he said, is the fact that the seeds are 40 percent oil. It is possible a new crushing mill at Etter will be able to handle the seed, although it is currently being used only for processing sunflower oil.

"The growing interest in biodiesel may make canola a potential crop for some (producers)," Bean said.

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