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Canola proves its mettle in Kansas

Jeff Caldwell 07/30/2013 @ 11:23am Agricultural content creator and marketer.

Thinking about raising canola next year? If so, the last couple of years have brought some perfect examples of the challenges you might be facing, as well as some of the limitations and strengths of the crop that's starting to grow in popularity in areas where it's not been too common in years past.

Take the last year in Kansas, where more farmers are turning to canola as a cash crop. It was just as slammed by last year's drought as anywhere in the nation, and those effects have yet to melt away just yet as the drought continues in many parts of that state. But that moisture trend hasn't been all bad for the crop, says Kansas State University canola breeder Mike Stamm.

"Although moisture conditions improved somewhat in the spring, it was a slow start to the growing season. This had both a positive and a negative effect on canola growth and development. Flowering began about one and a half weeks later than normal, and three weeks later than in 2012. A combination of drought and the slow greenup reduced plant height and thus yield potential of some producers’ fields," Stamm says.

The lack of rainfall wasn't the only hindrance to the crop in the last year: Several rounds of late-spring freezes this year nipped flowering canola plants, but not nearly to the degree many farmers feared. In fact, in some cases, it actually ended up adding to crop yields.

"Because of its indeterminant growth, the canola crop recovered very well from these freeze events. When temperatures dropped below 20 degrees F. at flowering, we saw the most damage to the flower structures and stems. Areas that dropped only into the upper 20s did not have as much damage to flowering canola plants. Nonetheless, the cool start to spring and timely rains resulted in exceptional conditions for seed fill," Stamm says. "Large pod sizes, which in turn resulted in more seeds per pod and high test weights, were observed up and down the main stem and branches of many canola fields, and this contributed significantly to the canola yields."

Looking ahead, the state of Kansas' relatively young canola industry faces challenges in developing varieties to help combat common environmental challenges, Stamm says. But after early attempts with the crop -- despite some of the most challenging crop conditions in decades -- many farmers are taking last year's experience and throwing it into more canola acres in the coming years.

"With careful variety selection, good farming practices, and a little assistance from the weather, producers should realize the full potential and profitability of winter canola," Stamm says of the crop that typically yields around 40 bushels per acre in Kansas. "Even though weather had a huge impact on the crop, many are encouraged by the crop’s resilience and profitability. As one first-year producer put it, 'Everything that could have gone wrong did, but because of canola’s resiliency, I’m encouraged to try it another year.'"

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