Winter canola offers viable rotation option

The Treadwell family is paying close attention to 200 acres of winter canola.

This is the first crop of winter canola they have grown, says Jason Treadwell, who farms near Frederick, Okla., with his father, Bill, his uncle, Buddy, and his cousin, Ethan.

"Winter canola offers a lot of promise," Jason said. "We plant winter wheat for two reasons: for pasture to graze calves during the winter (The gain the calves make is an important income for us.), and to harvest for grain.

"But growing continuous wheat left us with a serious weed problem. Weeds such as cheat, wild oats and several grasses grow in wheat fields and contaminate the grain. Weed seeds can cause significant reductions in the price paid."

Jason said the additional cost of applying herbicides to control in wheat fields is another factor. "We know rotating winter canola with winter wheat stops the weed growth cycle since it is a completely different plant.

"Winter canola also improves soil condition. Canola has a big taproot that loosens up the soil for better moisture and nutrient retention. This means less water runoff and erosion problems with more moisture going into the soil profile in dryland crop production."

The presence of a reliable market for winter canola seed with grower contracts offered by the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City makes the crop even more attractive, Jason said. Current price for winter canola is $7.40 per bushel for the 2010 crop.

Plenty of moisture and good growing weather has given the 2010 crop a lot of promise, Jason said. "We planted DeKalb 4615 and it looks good. It has seed pods three and four inches long."

Producers use several methods to harvest winter canola. They can harvest like winter wheat or prepare for harvest by swathing like hay or, using special equipment, push into wide rows with the mature plants above ground to allow the seed to dry uniformly.

Whether swathed or pushed, typical grain harvesters may be used to gather the crop. The product is a small, dark, round, smooth seed with high oil content. Canola seed is in high demand for processing into cooking oil and as an alternative fuel source.

Jason says winter canola could be the right choice to rotate with the crops they grow.

"We have been producing winter wheat, cotton and some hay crops for a long time," he said. "Canola appears to be what we need to make wheat production more profitable and to make the soil more productive."

Jason anticipates developing a three-fourths wheat and one-fourth canola rotation to clean up wheat fields and to take advantage of canola crop prices and improved soil.

Spring is a busy time for the Treadwell family. Winter wheat harvest, winter canola harvest and planting 1,500 acres of cotton will make for long days and nights, Jason said. At the same time, they are rounding up wheat pasture cattle to sell and working calves produced by their commercial cow herd.

Family farming is what the Treadwell family does well. They believe winter canola will help them do a better job.

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