Cook farm rates canola as tops

If you have to plant at least two canola crops to get some good oil, there might be some options to salvage a few dollars from the first crop.

“You might consider harvesting the first crop for silage to get some return,” suggests Scot Hulbert, Washington State University plant pathologist. Tests at the Cook Agronomy Farm, where Hulbert is an endowed chairman of the facility, turned out about 3 dried tons of silage, he reports.

Key Points

Washington canola studies are bringing new information to growers.

Economics of the crop have improved with higher prices.

Canola adds more carbon to soil than wheat.

Spring canola, however, looks like the best option in the Pullman, Wash., region, he adds. “We’ve gotten between 1,500 pounds to a ton in yields in the last five years on our trials. Additionally, it is a good rotation crop, with different diseases than those affecting cereals. It is a good crop for soil health, with a nice manageable amount of residue.”

Canola also puts down a deep taproot. But can it tap into profitability in terms of subsequent wheat yields?

Canola comparisons

Looking at winter wheat yields, canola did well compared with spring peas (81 bushels of wheat on average), winter peas and winter lentils (80 bushels), spring canola (75 bushels of wheat), according to Kate Painter, a University of Idaho agricultural economist working with the Cook plantings.

“So, canola was right in the ballpark” with the comparisons, she says. In spring wheat yields, winter peas and lentils resulted in 58 bushels of wheat; spring peas, 55; and spring canola, 49.

While perhaps as strong a showing for canola, it is still a close contender, Painter believes.In terms of dollar returns, “spring canola does very well,” she adds.

“Spring canola is going to be a very profitable crop,” she says, with prices averaging about 15 cents a pound, about double their norm for many years.

A WSU study to improve survival of the crop during cold periods is investigating whether adding more salts to the soil will help winter canola. Using super-phosphate and potassium chloride in the Cook crop, soils doctorate student Meagan Hughes reports some indications of improvements as the research continues.

Studies are also focusing on canola residues, revealing that the oil crop yields about 1,000 pounds more than wheat does of carbon added to the soil, says Ashley Hammac, another soils doctorate student at WSU.

“If you have 2,700 pounds of spring wheat, you will have 1,235 pounds of chaff weight, 506 pounds of leaf weight, 830 pounds of sheath weight and 1,478 pounds of stem weight,” he says.

On 1,500 pounds of spring canola, growers may see 1,182 pounds of pod weight, 3,342 pounds of stem weight and 1,518 pounds of leaf weight, he notes.

Looking at the nitrogen content of these plant parts, Hammac measured 23.4 pounds for wheat and 31.6 pounds for canola. “If you need an additional reason to grow canola, this extra nitrogen may serve as a bonus,” he says.

Growers’ reviews

Washington State University’s reports from growers in the state’s high rainfall zone in the east show the switch to canola is working for some producers.

In a survey of producers as part of a report to be published later this summer on the WSU Biofuels website,, this is what farmers had to say about their canola experience:

Lee Druffel, Colton: “We choose to grow oilseeds for rotation purposes and to add diversity to our crop choices. There is no doubt from the perspective of soil health that an oilseed crop does something to the ground that’s good.”

Tom Conrad, Colfax: “Having Roundup Ready canola available provides a competitive weed control advantage for us over only chemical fallow. I’ll keep growing spring canola, unless the price goes down to 10 cents.”

John Hinnenkamp, Colfax: “We really like the fact we didn’t have to make any equipment changes by choosing to grow canola.”

Del and Steve Teade, Colfax: “We are getting up to 15 bushels per acre better wheat yields in recrop situations after oilseed crops. When we recrop wheat after wheat, we average 10 bushels per acre less than wheat recropped after oilseed crops, and the wheat following an oilseed crop has been a better, more even stand, and better weed control.”

Rich Olson, Garfield: “Winter oilseeds may not be the answer here, but I believe spring oilseed crops can be once we learn enough about growing and processing them. We need an oilseed that will complement winter wheat, not compete with it.”

WSU offers tips on oilseed production

Washington State University provides these tips and hints for growing oilseeds:

Check your field history for herbicide plant-back restrictions.

Select varieties that perform well in your area.

Develop a timing and density strategy for seeding to optimize stand establishment and survivability.

Develop a soil test and field history-based fertilizer management plan that accounts for residual nutrient carryover in your rotation.

Develop diversified weed management strategies for addressing immediate field-specific weed pressure.

Minimize long-term herbicide carryover and avoid development of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Use Integrated Pest Management strategies, including scouting fields to determine economic thresholds of insects before making treatment decisions.

Chat with other oilseed producers in your area to find out what they have learned works best for them.

Survey and compare local oilseed marketing options, including on-farm uses of byproducts such as meal, biofuel and food-grade oil.


Scot Hulbert


Meagan Hughes


Kate Painter

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.