Canola Optimism Remains After Never-Ending Minnesota Winter

Posted: 4/27/2018

By Tony Brateng

The winter of 2017-18 tested even the hardiest of Minnesotans. With the mid-April blizzard, which left parts of the state with up to two feet of snow, it was Minnesota’s snowiest April on record – and made farmers who have other things on their minds this time of year antsy. 

In fact, the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that from 2013-2017, an average of13 percent wheat, 8 percent barley and 17 percent oats is usually planted by now. That won’t be the case this year. But when the snow melts and the ground thaws, you can bet canola farmers in northern Minnesota will be ready to go. 

If forecasts are accurate, canola acres in Minnesota in 2018 are expected to grow by 25 percent over 2017. This increase mirrors a similar increase in canola acres from 2016 to 2017, which was 24 percent. Itdemonstrates that more farmers are beginning to recognize the economic and agronomic benefits of canola. In fact, 2018 crop budgets show that canola continues to be a competitive option for farmers as well as an excellent rotational crop with other small grains traditionally grown in northwestern Minnesota. 

There are additional reasons to be optimistic about growing canola. Yields in 2017 were higher than ever. Not only did the statewide average yield in the top 2,000 pouds per acre (lbs/A) for the first time ever, but many canola farmers realized yields of better than 3,000 lbs/A.

Contributing to some of those record yields are results of a few significant research projects the Minnesota Canola Council (MCC) has undertaken in the last few years. First, itobtained a Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant to study whether soybean yield is greater following canola than wheat and if canola yield is greater following soybean than wheat. The study found a positive relationship between soybean and canola with canola yields averaging 325 lbs/A higher in a wheat-soybean-canola rotation than a wheat-wheat-canola rotation. 

Another research project which has canola growers buzzing demonstrates the advantages of singulation planting. Large plot trials in Roseau comparing conventionally planted canola at 5 lbs/A versus a 45-inch precision singulation planter showed an increase of over 300 lbs/A for the precision planting over the conventional air seeder. While this data is preliminary and more research is planned, it holds great promise for canola farmers. 

The results of these two research projects alone show the potential for canola farmers to add 625 lbs/A to their bottom line. At a market price of $0.18/lb, that’s an additional $112.50/A in revenue, not counting the savings in seed costs when singulating.

Also promising are results from a large research trial from this past year in Roseau, which showed that straight-combining canola out-yielded the conventional two-step harvesting system of swathing then combining canola. This disproves the myth that straight-harvesting canola results in lower yields. If farmers can save money and time by reducing field passes during harvesting as well as lower their exposure to wind damage by using newer, more shatter-resistant varieties, it’s just one more reason to grow canola.

The spring snow will melt … eventually. When it does, I’ll be eager to get my own canola in the ground. 

Tony Brateng is chair of the Minnesota Canola Council and a canola grower in Roseau, Minn.

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