Winter canola can be a valuable alternative crop for many producers in Kansas. It would be even more valuable to some producers if they could utilize winter canola as a dual-purpose forage and grain crop, said Mike Stamm, K-State Research and Extension canola breeder.
Using canola as a dual-purpose crop is a new practice and more information is needed regarding the forage potential of canola and the effects of grazing on grain yields, he said.
“Simulated grazing studies of winter canola have been conducted near Manhattan by K-State agronomists over the past few growing seasons. Preliminary results show that canola makes high-quality, nutritious, and highly digestible forage. However, ranchers who graze winter canola can expect a reduction in final grain yield,” Stamm said.
In the tests, he observed varietal differences in grain yield after the forage was harvested.
“The yield of varieties with a prostrate growth habit, or those that produce rosettes that hug the ground was about the same as that of un-grazed checks,” he said.
One such variety, named Griffin, was released in 2011 by K-State Research and Extension, the first dual-purpose forage and grain variety. Seed of Griffin will be available for planting in fall 2013, Stamm said.
The availability and duration of canola forage is more weather dependent than it is for winter cereals, he says. Canola should not be grazed if the threat of too little fall growth for overwintering exists, which could be the case this year where emergence was delayed by dry weather, he said.
The amount of forage produced by winter canola is variable, said Todd White, K-State Research and Extension forage agronomist.
“Above-ground wet biomass has ranged from 2 to 10 tons per acre, and dry weights have averaged about 0.4 to 2 tons per acre,” White said.
This fall, canola will probably produce less forage than normal, Stamm added.
Ranchers report their animals develop a taste for canola after a few days of grazing it, and noticeably devour the crop before moving to different forages, Stamm said. Others have noticed cattle are not interested in the crop until after a hard freeze.
Some ranchers have seen daily gains greater than 3 pounds per day when grazing winter canola, White said.
“Preliminary grain yields show that simulated grazing of canola reduces grain yield by 50 percent in the fall, while grazing canola in the spring reduces grain yield by 70 percent,” Stamm said.
For this reason, grazing is not recommended if the objective is to produce high grain yields, he added.
“Do not graze canola in the spring unless you intend to graze it out,” he said.