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Canola field tours draw farmers, researchers

Several canola field tours held in eastern Washington and Oregon in May and June attracted a large number of attendees interested in learning more about canola production strategies. IMGP3608_tnFaculty and staff with the Washington State Oilseed-based Cropping Systems project at WSU, and affiliate faculty at OSU and UI, are focusing research and Extension efforts to provide as much practical canola information to growers as possible to keep up with the ever-increasing acreage in many counties. Canola acreage harvested in Washington more than doubled from 14,500 acres in 2012 to 36,000 acres in 2013, and data released June 30 from USDA-NASS predicts 43,000 harvested acres for 2014. Growers and researchers alike are touting the benefits of growing canola, a broadleaf crop, in the predominantly cereal-based rotations in the PNW – increased yield of following cereal crops, rotating weed control chemistry, breaking disease cycles, and improving the economic bottom line when including canola in rotation.

Douglas County, in north central WA, is a hotbed of winter canola production, as evidenced by the rapid increase in canola acreage, and the attendance of almost 100 people at a field tour in mid-May organized by Dale Whaley, WSU Douglas County Extension. Growers in the wheat-fallow, low rainfall region are utilizing canola to control moderate to severe infestations of grassy weeds, and are subsequently experiencing significant yield increases, and elimination of dockage, in the following winter wheat crop. Frank Young, USDA-ARS agronomist, has been conducting field trials in the area since 2007 and is impressed by how many growers are mentoring others about canola production, direct seeding and other farming techniques to improve their operation. Don Wysocki, OSU Extension soil scientist, led a field tour later in the week in northeast OR attended by 50 growers and industry reps. Several growers explained their success in recent years with planting winter canola in July, resulting in much better stand establishment compared to when they had planted in late August or early September. Ongoing challenges are finding the best fertilizer management strategies to complement the earlier seeding dates, tillage management after the canola to carry through the fallow to the next wheat crop and looking into using the early vegetative growth for silage or grazing.

Pomeroy, Washington was the location for another winter canola field tour at 4,000’ elevation, attracting 80 people in late May. Of the five sites where winter canola variety trials were planted by Frank Young and his WSU team, Pomeroy was the only one that survived severe winter weather. Attendees were able to see and compare 14 different winter canola varieties, and presentations also included information about a recent alert about blackleg in canola and other brassica crops in the Willamette Valley; new winter canola varieties for 2014; changes in the WA Oilseeds Commission; and the chemistry available with spring canola varieties (Clearfield, Liberty Link, Roundup Ready) that allow more mode of action options for acreage where residual herbicide or specific weed problems need addressed. Irrigated winter canola was the focus of a tour a couple days later near Odessa, WA. Area growers explained their primary reason for growing winter canola is to conserve irrigation water for other crops such as wheat and potatoes. Bill Schillinger, WSU Extension scientist, led attendees through winter wheat residue management plots that were planted to winter canola. Treatment differences were very distinct – plots where wheat residue had been burned before planting canola had survived the winter whereas treatments that were no-till or minimum-till had little to no survival. Jim Davis from University of Idaho also had observations to share about winter survival between winter canola varieties in the UI plots in the same field. He estimated about 30% survival of the plots after the winter freeze and winds with no snow cover to protect the canola. Other presentations included marketing and market outlook, blackleg information and introduction of the two newest WA Oilseeds commissioners, Jeff Schibel (Odessa) and Mike Stubbs (Dusty). A demonstration by Darrell Kilgore, WSU CAHNRS Communications, highlighted the use of video-enabled unmanned aerial aircraft to be able to assess problem areas in a field, timing of field treatments and other potential options. Field days at WSU Lind and Wilke field stations in June featured stops at oilseed research plots and fields, as did the Spokane, Whitman and Asotin Co. crop tours.

Canola has been labelled by many as an ‘opportunity crop’ to plant when conditions are just right, yet with the recent success and benefits WA and PNW producers are experiencing growing the crop, the sight of a yellow flowering field in May and June may very well become much more than a rare opportunity.