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Winter canola outshines wheat in drought

Winter canola outshines wheat in drought
Canola tap roots grow deep to moisture. Helps reduce weed problems in subsequent wheat crop. Current prices attractive for growers,

Ray and Jason Cowan are a father and son farmer team who are ready to harvest their second crop of winter canola.

Their first crop, 700 acres of the variety Wichita, yielded 30 bushels per acre in 2010. After harvest, they trucked the seed directly to the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City, Ok.

This year, they planted nearly 800 acres with two DeKalb Roundup Ready varieties, DKW 41-10 and DKW 46-15. The first week in May they planned to windrow the crop, let it dry for a few days and combine it.

Jason is not sure how well the crop will yield but says the crop has been growing well. "We use conventional tillage. We planted the canola seed like alfalfa, just deep enough so the seed was covered and we had good soil moisture. Since then, one and-a-half inches of rain in October, 2010, a little snow in December and a half-inch of rain May 1, 2011, is all the moisture we have received."

Winter canola's large tap root that reaches down into the soil to find moisture is one of the crop's features Jason believes has given them a harvestable crop in a time of drought.

"I think the conventionally-prepared seedbed and good soil moisture at planting helped us to get the crop started," Jason said. "It had time to establish a root system before the really dry weather started."

They used a ground sprayer to control armyworms and aphids one time; later, they used an aerial applicator to control another aphid problem.

With only two seasons growing winter canola behind them, the Cowans have not been able to rotate with their winter wheat. "We will be starting a wheat-canola rotation in the future," Jason said. "It is apparent this crop of canola has done better in the drought than our wheat.”

Farmers planted approximately 120,000 acres of winter canola in the Southern Plains this year. It was introduced seven years ago through the research of Oklahoma State University agronomy professor Dr. Tom Peeper, who was seeking improved methods to control weeds in continuously-grown winter wheat. Grown in rotation with winter wheat, winter canola has proven it breaks up the growing cycle of winter rye, cheat grass and other weeds commonly found in Southern Plains wheat. Presence of these weed seeds in wheat marketed at grain terminals results in reduced paychecks for farmers.

At the same time, current price paid for 2011 new crop canola is $11.33 per bushel. Price paid for KC wheat, May, 2011, is $8.01 per bushel.


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