Farmers mull over oilseed crops
Northwest farmers get look at canola, rapeseed, mustard
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Hal Meenach has been raising oilseed crops for 20 years, but in the last five years he's seen enough to make him think they're going to be more important.
"We have all kinds of chemical issues and weed issues, and a crop like this can solve some of those," said the Valleyford, Wash., farmer.
Meenach, a member of the Washington Oilseed Commission, was in attendance at the University of Idaho's Rapeseed, Canola and Mustard Field Day in Moscow, Idaho, the morning of July 7.
Farmers listened to various presentations, including the possibility of planting winter canola earlier in the year in order to get a better crop establishment, avoiding the problems that usually arise when planting in the fall.
If planted in August, crops can be killed by the heat as quickly as by a rapid frost, Meenach said. If he can plant it June 1 and have it survive during the winter into the next year, it will become a permanent part of his rotation, he said.
Other topics included "canolage," or use of canola crops as a high-protein silage; the possibility of raising sunflowers for Pacific Northwest dryland areas, developing green manure crops and results of various breeding programs.
Sustainability isn't necessarily going to continue if the Northwest remains in a monoculture system of small-grain cereal production of wheat and barley, university breeder Jack Brown said. So far, he said, farmers have avoided a crashing from built-up, soil-borne diseases by adding more pesticides. But many of those pesticides cost money or may not be available in the future.
"The sustainability is only going to be there if we have other crops adapted to this area," Brown said. "All the crops we're dealing with today -- winter and spring canola, winter and spring rapeseed, oriental and yellow mustard -- are all very well adapted to this area."
Typically, when a farmer grows wheat after any of the crops, the wheat yields are increased by as much as 20 percent, Brown said.
Brown said eventually the crops will have to be embraced by farmers, who are gradually realizing the benefits of broadening their crop rotations.
As genetics improve in the cultivars of the crops, they are more reliable.
Demand for such crops has grown higher than acreage, Brown said, meaning the price and value has also grown.
But the crops and many of the ideas presented during the field day are also new, Brown said, meaning farmers will require some help as researchers work to develop systems to avoid crop failure and make farmers more sustainable.
Rosalia, Wash., farmer Terry Morgan, chairman of the Washington Canola Commission, said the oilseed crops are good as rotational crops, breaking up pathogens in soil and increasing moisture into the ground.
"Anything that uses different nutrients is good," he said. "You just need to be able to make a profit."
With the ability to move product to local processors in Odessa, Wash., Prosser, Wash., or Sunnyside, Wash., farmers can make a profit if the price is right, Morgan said.
Lacrosse, Wash., area farmer Michael Stubbs believes oilseed crop acreages will remain stable but not rise until the price beats the price of traditional crops like wheat.
He thinks farmers need to look beyond their impression of such crops as rotational crops or as a bridge between wheat crops.
"These crops have enough potential, fall and spring, to look at them on their own as moneymakers," Stubbs said.