East Idaho grower tries new canola production method

Kamren Koompin, of American Falls, Idaho, shows the supply of winter canola seed he plans to plant this spring and raise for forage and harvest for seed during the fallowing season. The production method, promoted by University of Idaho, should also minimize winter kill.

AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho — Kamren Koompin is taking a new approach to raising canola this season, which he believes will increase profits while significantly reducing the odds of crop losses.

The Koompins have planted canola in southeast Idaho about six times during the past two decades, finding winter crop yields can nearly double spring canola production.

In the past, however, they’ve had trouble with snow mold and winter kill with fall-seeded canola.

Koompin believes new products on the market should alleviate snow mold problems. And he hopes to reduce winter kill by following University of Idaho canola breeder Jack Brown’s advice and planting his winter canola in the spring, nearly four months early.

Because winter canola requires a vernalization period to flower and go to seed, thereby completing its life cycle, Koompin plans to take three cuttings of canola this season as a high-quality hay. By winter, the root system should be fully developed, helping the crop to better withstand harsh conditions that might kill less mature plants. During the following season, he’ll let the canola bloom and harvest the oil seeds, currently worth about 22 cents per pound.

“You’re getting kind of a double whammy off of one crop,” said Koompin, who learned about the concept in January, when Brown made a presentation to growers and grain elevator personnel in Grace, Idaho.

Koompin plans to plant about 200 acres of canola seed genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicide, and about 50 acres of conventional seed that Brown developed. Buyers offer a premium for conventional canola.

Koompin, who will blow on his canola seed with fertilizer and harrow it in to avoid planting too deep, said canola is a good low-water option that tolerates drought stress once it’s established.

Canola forage yields are typically no better than two-thirds of alfalfa yields — about 4 to 6 tons per acre under irrigation.

But Brown said canola hay and green-cut “canolage” have more protein than alfalfa. The relative feed value for good canolage can score up to 320, compared with 200 for top-grade alfalfa. Canola hay is also low in lignin, enabling feeders to mix in a greater percentage of cheaper forage.

By leaving canola in the ground for two seasons, Brown said growers also maximize the soil health benefits of the rotation crop. Brown said spud growers report less disease and a higher percentage of No. 1 tubers following canola, which leaches a natural fumigant into soil.

Brown believes the major driver of increased canola acres throughout Idaho will be that Scoular Co. has begun developing the infrastructure to procure canola from throughout the Northwest for Pacific Coast Canola’s new plant in Warden, Wash.

J.C. Olson, a merchandiser with Scoular, said the bulk of the 350,000 metric tons of canola processed at the plant per year is imported from other growing regions.

Given its proximity to Warden and its rotational capacity, Olson said Idaho has “some real potential to carry canola production now that has not been tapped.”

Olson said Scoular has worked with elevators throughout Idaho, including in the state’s Eastern region, to begin handling canola.

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