Giving canola farmers a voice

Karen Sowers of Richland, Wash., is the new executive director of the Pacific Northwest Canola Association. She was previously the interim executive director.

Karen Sowers, who has been the interim executive director of the new Pacific Northwest Canola Association since its founding, is making the position permanent.

The association’s board of directors chose her as executive director at its recent meeting. The association became operational at the end of 2017.

Sowers hopes to see efforts to increase canola production continue, reaching out beyond Washington to farmers in Idaho, Montana and Oregon and beyond.

“I have a passion for it,” she said. “I want to see this canola thing continue. It seems like a concept that’s so simple, but in some ways it’s not: Putting a different crop into a cereal rotation.”

Doing so can benefit chemical rotations, weed control and break the disease cycle. The economics benefit farmers, the industry and small communities, Sowers said.

The region has about 230,000 canola acres, with about 115,000 acres in Montana and 68,000 in Washington.

Education is the biggest need for canola right now, Sowers said. That includes consumer awareness of canola, its health benefits, what it does for farmers and ways it helps pollinator populations.

The association will also advocate for registering new herbicides and fungicides.

Sowers said she expects the canola association position to be “half-timeish,” varying with the time of year.

Sowers has been outreach specialist for oilseeds for Washington State University Extension for more than a decade. She will continue in that position for several months while the job is posted, she said.

She will assist in the transition and help the University of Idaho, Montana State University and Oregon State University apply for grants to write a regional canola production guide this year.

Sowers has demonstrated her personal dedication to advancing canola production, said Bill Pan, professor in oilseed cropping systems at WSU.

“She is a tireless networker that has connected growers to university researchers, agricultural suppliers, government support agencies and oilseed processors and markets,” Pan said. “The skills and knowledge she has developed will serve her well in a broader push to advance canola production across the Pacific Northwest.”

Sowers and her husband are moving to Arizona as part of her husband’s work. She will serve as executive director from there.

Sowers likened the situation to her setup working for WSU from the Tri-Cities. Her work in the field was for her extension position, she said. She expects to travel two to four times a year.

The association holds two meetings a year. The next will be in Bozeman, Mont., this March.

In November, the U.S. Canola Association will have its annual meeting in Spokane.

The commission would also like to see an oilseed commission established in Montana, she said. It would increase checkoff dollars for research.

Field Reporter, Spokane

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