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UI researcher touts canola’s potential

Matthew Weaver
University of Idaho oilseed and wheat breeder Jack Brown hopes farmers will step up and produce canola to fill the needs of regional crushing facilities, which will offer a reasonable price. Farmers will see a comparable price for canola compared to wheat and a boost to the wheat that follows their canola in rotation, Brown says.

The Inland Northwest is well-positioned to support increasing regional canola production, a University of Idaho oilseed breeder says.

UI professor, plant breeder and geneticist Jack Brown said the opening in 2013 of crush plants in Warden, Wash., and Odessa, Wash., helped boost potential canola production “tremendously.”

“The farming community has to step up to the game and say, ‘OK, now we have the egg, let’s be the chicken and produce a product that they need,’” Brown said. “The egg, which is the crush facilities, have to be effective and say, ‘OK, we have to try and pay the farmers a reasonable price.”

To be competitive with wheat, a reasonable price for canola is twice the price of wheat, Brown said.

Canola is about 19 cents per pound, while wheat, at $6.80 per bushel per bushel, is roughly 10 cents per pound.

“It’s definitely something all farmers should consider including in their crop rotation, just because they’re not going to lose money by growing it and it will boost the wheat coming in after the canola,” he said.

Brown has long promoted that yield boost, up to 20-25 percent. He thinks researchers need to do a better job conducting long-term studies to quantify the results and convey the financial information to growers.

According to Brown’s yield data, winter canola cultivars increased productivity in the last 20 years by roughly a third, boosting yields by more than a thousand pounds per acre.

Brown estimates that winter canola cultivars today yield $200 per acre more than the cultivars available two decades ago.

“There’s certainly no other crop in this area that has improved in productivity as much as that,” he said.

Spring canola also had a significant increase, and also boosted yield potential by about a third, Brown said.

Brown attributed the bulk of the increase to improved genetics and more farmers and researchers learning how and when to plant the crop, fertilization and pest management.

Brown plans to continue his research efforts with dual-purpose canola, or winter canola planted in the spring or early summer in a crop fallow region. The crop would be used for grazing forage or silage. A farmer would harvest three or four cuts, let the crop overwinter, and then harvest for seed.

Brown advises interested farmers to contact grain elevators for advice about which cultivar best suits their situation, and to determine where best to market their crop.

He cautions that raising canola requires more attention the first few years compared to wheat, which has become relatively easy to grow. Farmers know how to handle and market wheat, while the canola infrastructure is still coming together, he said.

“If you don’t pay attention to (canola) and you’re not familiar with it, then you could get bad experiences and we don’t want that to happen, because that would put farmers off growing it again,” he said.



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