Getting ready for winter canola

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The yellow flowering fields in Kansas during the springtime showcase one of the state’s most beautiful crops—canola. The crop is not only pleasing to the eye, but its seeds produce oil that has many human health benefits and meal that is used as a protein supplement for livestock. The oil can also be used for making biodiesel.

Its growing demand for a variety of uses has, in the last 10 years, made canola a more popular and profitable rotational crop in Kansas. Winter canola is commonly grown in central and south central Kansas under dryland conditions, while in southwest Kansas it is grown using irrigation. The window for winter canola planting begins in late August, so it is about a month ahead of winter wheat planting. Now is the time to make decisions to ensure a successful canola growing season for 2013-2014.

Mike Stamm, a canola breeder and associate agronomist at Kansas State University, said about 80 percent of the canola oil consumed in the United States is imported, so it makes sense for farmers in the southern Great Plains to grow more winter canola.

“One of the reasons why we’re encouraging farmers to grow winter canola is that the same equipment used for wheat production can also be used for winter canola,” Stamm said.

Canola makes an excellent rotational crop with winter wheat, he said, because different classes of herbicide used to control weeds in winter canola also control weeds that can be troublesome for winter wheat. The roots of a canola plant can draw nutrients and water that are deep in the soil up to the surface that often times wheat roots can’t reach.

Seeds within canola pods are small, but their value is not. Each 2 millimeter (mm) diameter seed is about 40 percent oil. With a current futures price for the 2014 crop around $11.35 per bushel, canola is looking profitable for the coming year, Stamm said.

He had tips for producers who are considering growing winter canola this season:

• Insurance: Insurance is available for canola in all Kansas counties adjacent to and south of Interstate 70. Revenue and yield protection are available in Barber, Gray (irrigated only), Harper, Kingman, and Sumner Counties. Coverage in other counties is available by an individual written agreement, for yield protection only, if certain criteria are met. The deadline to apply for canola insurance is Aug. 31. To qualify for full benefits of the coverage, including replant payment if necessary, canola needs to be planted Aug. 25-Sept. 25 in southwest Kansas; Sept. 10-Oct. 10 in Barber, Harper and Sumner Counties; and Sept. 1-30 in Kingman County and all other eligible counties.

• Selecting the right cultivar: Consider several factors when selecting a cultivar, including but not limited to winter hardiness, seed yield, oil content, disease resistance, relative maturity, lodging susceptibility and shatter tolerance. Selecting for two or more cultivars with differing maturities could be beneficial to spread out harvest and reduce risk.

• Selecting the right site: Consider soil texture, pH and crop rotation methods. Well-drained, medium-textured soils work best. The soil pH should be between 5.5 and 7.0 units. Planting canola continuously is not recommended and is not insurable. Be mindful when planting canola following broadleaf crops like sunflower, soybean, alfalfa or cotton, as these crops share similar diseases with canola. Canola will perform best when adequate time is allowed after the preceding crop to let soil moisture recharge and to control weeds.

• Planting methods: Decide on tillage or no-till. If using tillage, use aggressive tillage as early as possible and make each succeeding pass shallower than the last. Incorporate fertilizer and herbicide with the last tillage operation. Some long-term no-till producers have grown canola successfully, and with proper drill settings, no-till planting usually results in adequate stands. Maintaining stands over the winter, however, can be difficult with low disturbance in heavy residue cover. This can be resolved by burning surface residue immediately before planting or by using a more aggressive drill setup that removes residue from the seed row. Canola can be planted in a variety of row spacings, from 6 to 30 inches wide, and should be planted to best suit the land and water situation.

• Timing of planting: The general rule is to plant canola six weeks before the average date of the first killing frost in central and south central Kansas, or eight to ten weeks for southwest Kansas. This allows adequate time for plant growth to improve winter survival and canopy development. Planting too late will result in small plants with insufficient reserves to maximize winter survival. Planting too early might result in excessive growth that depletes soil moisture and nutrients.

• Soil, weed, insect and disease management: Test soils to determine fertilizer needs. Control weeds early in the fall. Canola seedlings compete poorly with established weeds, so a clean seedbed is important. The best control of canola diseases is achieved through careful rotation.

For more information, read the newly revised K-State Research and Extension publication MF2734: Great Plains Canola Production Handbook ( A video explaining winter canola in Kansas is available on YouTube channel (

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