Improving Canola Production in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains

Posted: 4/2/2018

Improving canola production in the Pacific Northwest

By Jack Brown

Researchers from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, Oregon State University and Montana State University have completed the first three years of an ongoing research project funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Grants Program. Our research goal is simple:  To increase grower profitability and sustainability of winter and spring canola production throughout the Pacific Northwest (PNW) so we can substantially increase canola acreage and production in the region.  

Our research goals are influenced by the needs and priorities of the local farmers and canola industry,  so we are in continual cooperation with state oilseed and grain commissions and our newly-formed Pacific Northwest Canola Growers Association. We also have intensive outreach and numerous field days, workshops, bulletins and other written handouts to communicate our research to the canola community. 

Our current research has three main objectives:

1.)    To develop genetically superior spring and winter canola cultivars that are suitable for a wide range of regional environmental conditions
With this goal, we utilize traditional and modern breeding methodologies to achieve our goals. We select for increased seed yield, oil content, specialty fatty acid profiles, seed meal quality and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

We continue to organize the Pacific Northwest Spring and Winter Canola Variety Trials. The aims of these trials are to: 1) identify PNW areas specifically suited to spring or winter canola production; and 2) provide growers information aboutthe best and most adapted canola cultivars for their area. These field evaluation trials contain cultivars and advanced breeding lines from the University of Idaho and several other commercial seed and breeding companies.  

In 2017, 49 spring canola cultivars, derived from 13 different seed/breeding companies were evaluated in replicated yield trials at seven locations throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In addition, 25 spring canola cultivars from seven commercial seed companies were evaluated at two locations in Montana. Twenty winter canola cultivars from six different seed/breeding companies were evaluated at nine locations throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Each regional trial location featured in filed day presentations to growers and local industry. Full results from the trials can be found here.

We are also using transgenic technology to develop cold- and drought-tolerant canola varieties that will efficiently utilize water and express extreme winter hardiness. 

2.)    To determine and quantify the effects of growing canola in rotations with wheat in the PNW.  
Over 80 percent of the PNW dryland system is planted to small grain cereals, limited to mainly winter and spring wheat. Few alternative crops are available. We have been growing crop rotation trials in Idaho and Washington to compare possible crop rotations.  Results showed that: 1) winter wheat planted after spring canola was 14 percent higher yielding compared to winter wheat planted after spring wheat; 2) spring wheat planted after spring canola was 16 percent higher yielding compared to spring wheat planted after spring wheat; and 3) winter wheat planted after winter canola was 26 percent higher yielding compared to winter wheat after winter wheat.  

In each rotation, there was greater grower profitability by including canola into the crop rotation. This means a substantial acreage of land in the PNW could be planted to winter or spring canola without any reduction in overall wheat production. Other advantages of including canola in these rotations include better water infiltration into soil and reduced grass weeds in following wheat crops.

3.)    Survey the PNW’s potential for development of blackleg. 
It had been thought that blackleg disease was not present in the PNW due to its dry Mediterranean climate. However, in 2014, blackleg was discovered in seed production fields in Nezperce County and widespread during the spring of 2015 in Idaho, Lewis, Nezperce and Latah Counties. Winter and spring canola fields were scouted for blackleg symptoms in July of 2016 and confirmed in 39 locations. Selected isolates are being examined for virulence on canola and preliminary greenhouse studies are being conducted in preparation for large scale evaluation of a canola germplasm collection.  

Jack Brown is an assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics at the University of Idaho. 

Great Plains a Leader in Canola Research and Breeding

By Mike Stamm

Across five states in the Great Plains, canola breeding, agronomic research and outreach activities are supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Instittue of Food and Agriculture. The long-term goal of this interdisciplinary project is to facilitate the adoption of winter canola into cropping systems of the southern Great Plains. It’s working: Canola producers are using technologies developed by this project to profitably grow winter canola and to meet the growing domestic demand for canola oil in the United States.
Technologies under development include new, adapted winter canola cultivars and cheaper, more efficient planting and harvesting methods. The canola breeding program at Kansas State University released two new winter canola cultivars in 2017, ‘HyCLASS320W’ and ‘Surefire.’Seed sales of a total of nine licensed canola products developed by the program exceeded the equivalent of 60,000 planted acres in 2017. 

Research shows that canola producers may be able to reduce seeding rates in narrow and wide row widths while increasing winter survival and maintaining yield. Seeding rates of 300,000 seeds/acre sustained yields at the same levels as higher seeding rates in both row widths. 

Hybrid cultivars also maintained better yields than open-pollinated cultivars at the lowest seeding rates. A recent study showed that swathing canola too early can significantly reduce oil content of the seed. In addition, direct cutting increased oil content of the seed by about 2 percent over optimum swathing. These results may lead to a switch from swathing to direct cutting as producers work to increase the oil content of the seed they harvest. 

Through the project’s outreach strategies, nearly 900 producers were engaged through field days, seminars or canola production schools delivered by the project team.   

Mike Stamm is a canola breeder at Kansas State University.

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