Winter canola survives late cold snaps

Several thousand acres of winter canola growing in Oklahoma's wheat country has lived up to its name.

Following the late spring freezes that destroyed more than 90 percent of the 2009 Oklahoma winter wheat crop, winter canola successfully survived the cold snap as well as the winter drought.

"Around here," Apache, Okla., farmer Alan Mindemann explained, "the freeze slowed down the maturity of the canola crop, but it didn't kill it. Canola has a high cold tolerance."

Mindemann, who planted 800 acres of canola, said the freeze caused the plants to drop blooms and immature seed pods. "This was only a temporary reaction," he said. "As soon as the temperature warmed up, the plants started growing new branches, flowers and seed pods."

Mindemann believes the major effect of the freeze on winter canola will be later maturity as a result of the new growth.

"Overnight temperatures in this area went down to 21 degrees," Mindemann said. "I think all of my winter wheat, already stressed by a dry, cold winter, was killed by the freeze. About the only effect on my canola will be to make harvest a week or two later, sometime in early June.

"And while the canola yield may not be as good as we would expect with normal moisture during the winter, I think it will still yield around 800 to 900 pounds of seed per acre. To me, that is good news, particularly with the canola bringing at least a dollar more per unit than wheat would."

One unexpected benefit also comes from the new growth the plants made to recuperate from the freeze, he said.

"There is plenty of added, thicker growth on the plants. The denser plant growth and shorter plants because of the drought will make it much easier to harvest with a regular combine."

Mindemann said canola may be a good rotation crop with wheat. "There had been a serious Hessian fly problem in several fields where we had farmed continuous wheat," he said. "In fact, Oklahoma State University entomologists have tested different insecticides in these fields because the Hessian fly problem was so bad. One field of wheat had been totally destroyed by the flies.

"Rotating canola behind wheat in these fields has done away with the Hessian fly problem," he said. "And other benefits of using canola in rotation with wheat also have to be considered. Better soil tilth due to the canola taproots opening up the soil and making it easier to plant a crop is a definite benefit of canola behind wheat.

"Maybe the most important reason for planting canola, other than better prices for the crop, is all the weeds that grow with wheat are interrupted in their growth cycles. Ryegrass, cheatgrass, wild oats and many other weeds common to continuous wheat no long exist in these fields."

Mindemann's observations on his winter canola crop near Apache are similar to those reported by Gene Neuens, field representative for the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City, which offers grower contracts for winter canola production the Southern Plains.

"After coming through a drought, sleet, hail and two freezes," Neuens said, "the canola plants are coming back strong. The plants are branching out and putting on many clusters of buds that will mature into seed pods. Where wheat has only one growing plant per tiller, canola will keep growing.

"The harvest will be set back from one week to 10 days and the yield may not be as good, but it will give producers a fair yield."

Producers need to be looking at winter canola for a winter rotation crop with wheat, Neuens said.

Chad Godsey, Oklahoma State University assistant professor of agronomy, offered observations about the current state of the winter canola crop in Oklahoma:

"Where the temperatures were below 20 degrees," he said, "the canola crop withstood the freeze better than surrounding fields of wheat. This is not surprising since canola can tolerate much colder temperatures than winter wheat.

"Freeze damage to the canola varies from blank spots on the raceme to more severe where branches were broken over. All the canola I have seen has recovered and is blooming again.

"One thing the freezes likely did is prolong blooming, which may delay maturity. This may create some harvest problems with uneven maturity, but time will tell."

Vici, Okla., farmer Jerry Hedges, who has 65 acres of canola he’s growing for seed for Monsanto/DeKalb Co., reported the crop appears to be more dense after the freeze because "the plants are growing new branches, blooms and buds that will develop into seed pods."

Farmers seeking information about growing winter canola may contact Godsey at 405-744-3389 or [email protected].

Information on grower contracts and other marketing information about winter canola may be obtained from Gene Neuens or Brandon Winters at 405-232-7555. Their email addresses are [email protected] and [email protected].

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