Canola brightens Washington fields

Amber waves of grain have given way to a crescendo of golden canola across the farmlands of Douglas County, Wash. Look around anywhere in the rural reaches of the region in the spring and you will see brilliant patchworks of canola flowering across the landscape. These are not small trial plantings of oilseeds, but hundreds of acres on each farm.

Canola brightens Washington fields

Amber waves of grain have given way to a crescendo of golden canola across the farmlands of Douglas County, Wash. Look around anywhere in the rural reaches of the region in the spring and you will see brilliant patchworks of canola flowering across the landscape. These are not small trial plantings of oilseeds, but hundreds of acres on each farm.

Many of the plantings are new to farms that have been here for generations. Others reach back decades, before canola was a viable crop choice.

Minimum-till and no-till producer Denver Black, who is working on his second canola crop this year near Mansfield, is testing non-GMO varieties to replace his GMO varieties, a shift that promises higher premiums on today’s market.

With 500 acres of oilseed on his 4,000-acre farm, he says his main reason to plant the crop in a wheat rotation was due to his grassy weed problems. “Downy brome and jointed goatgrass weeds cost me a lot of money and time to control,” he says. “Roundup Ready canola seemed to be the best way to control them. The compaction breakup offered by canola is also a plus we were after.”

His farm, traditionally at 2,000 acres fallow and 2,000 in wheat, is now at 1,500 acres of wheat, 500 of canola and 2,000 fallowed acres.

Growing Croplan — a Monsanto RR GMO — in much of his field, he thinks the future may be in the non-GMOs he is trying — Baldur, Hornet and Safran. Not only is there a premium in these non-GMOs, “I believe that food-quality canola is where the demand will be in the future.”

While he says he considers continued use of his Croplan 115 to clean up the weeds, “it looks like Assure is doing a good job in the non-GMOs.” Also, Croplan made it through the winter “as good as any variety we’re been looking at.”

Low shipping costs

Delivering to Central Washington Grain Growers just eight miles away from his field, Black says his shipping costs are minimal. And with a new processing plant in Warden, Wash., called Pacific Coast Canola, “we have a very nice infrastructure in place” for buying seed in central Washington, he says.

The Warden plant, which opened less than a year ago, is reported to be operating at full capacity, a quick ramp-up that Steve Starr, PCC seed procurement vice president, calls “unbelievably fast.

“What we need is a little more premium paid to our closeness to the plant,” he says. “It appears that we are still on the same level of payment as crops from Canada coming into Washington, and our localness should be worth something, I believe.”

While canola is new to many Pacific Northwest growers like Black, pests have already become a threat. Cabbage seed pod weevils hit numbers that called for spray treatments in his field last year. But by mid-May, the pest remained below threshold levels, he reports.

Troubling pests

Lygus and aphids can also cause trouble for canola, although not that much in winter canola like Black’s crop.

“I’ve seen high populations of wasps and spiders, so perhaps these beneficials will bring some control,” he says.

Shifting 500 acres into canola means more vigilance, he says, since the crop “appears to be a little more sensitive to inputs.”

Right now, he spends about as much time working in his 500 acres of canola as he does the 1,500 of wheat.

“We’re learning more from our mistakes than from our successes.”

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Crop NEWCOMER: Mansfield, Wash., farmer Denver Black is nursing his second canola crop this season, noting he has learned more from mistakes than successes.

This article published in the July, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Crop Management

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