Winter canola has emerged as a viable Southern Plains crop. Ron Sholar, executive director of the Great Plains Canola Association, is seeking ways to expand on that success.
Sholar says 40,000 acres of winter canola was planted in the Southern Plains in 2008. In succeeding years, the acreage grew to 150,000 acres for a couple of years with the 2012 planting season topping 200,000 acres.
"Planting for the 2013/14 season is taking place now," Sholar said. "I believe we will see 300,000 acres planted and that may be a conservative estimate."
Sholar wants to see more positive changes with the crop, and not just with increased acreage.
"Estimates of acres planted are often anecdotal," he said. "In other words, university agronomists, seed company representatives, farmers themselves and other people listen to what is being said over coffee, how many bags of seed are being sold and what Extension specialists are seeing when they assist farmers with planting decisions.
"All of this is fine, but we should realize a lot of very important decisions are made on these anecdotal estimates, like bankers making decisions on how much money to loan a farmer to put in a crop."
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Sholar and other winter canola executives are working with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to begin listing planting and harvesting data in its regular reports covering other major crops like winter wheat, corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and cotton.
"This is part of a success story's growing pains," he said. "These are developments we need to give everyone affected by winter canola production a better, official handle on how the crop has been growing and enable them to make realistic estimates on its future production."
Sholar said NASS already recognizes Oklahoma as the leading winter canola-producing state among the Southern Plains states where the crop is grown. Following Oklahoma statistics are Colorado, Texas and Kansas statistics listed together under the heading of Southern Plains states.
Winter canola was developed from canola grown in the summer months in Canada and northern U.S. states. As a summer crop, it is an important crop for farmers in that geographical area. Sholar said.
As such, winter canola acres planted in the Southern Plains are thrown in with USDA summer canola acreage reports from the northern production areas, he said.
"This is just another area we need to address to get the winter canola acreage reported with other winter crops like winter wheat, a crop often grown in rotation with winter canola," he said. "It is confusing for the uninitiated to try to find acreage reports on winter canola when the figures are still contained in the spring crop category."
Winter canola was developed when Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University agronomists were seeking ways to combat perennial weeds infesting continuously grown winter wheat in the Southern Plains. Canola is entirely different in its genetic makeup and growing properties from winter wheat. Crop geneticists made changes in the crop so it could be planted and thrive in cold weather like winter wheat.
In rotation with winter wheat, canola disrupts the growth cycle of such weeds as winter rye and cheat grass. This cleans up wheat fields and allows farmers to escape price dockages on the wheat seed they sell to grain terminals each spring.
Winter canola has proven to be a money crop. It has consistently brought from $3 to $4 t per bushel more than winter wheat when sold at the market. A large tap root on the canola plant assists the crop to penetrate compacted soils to find soil moisture and nutrients.