By Angela Dansby
For the first time in history, the U.S. Canola Association (USCA) held a meeting in the Pacific Northwest (Spokane, Wash.) as a testament to the fact that canola is now a regional crop. About 233,000 acres, representing 12 percent of national acreage, was grown in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon in 2018. That’s enough to supply a whopping 40 percent of the full-capacity Viterra crushing facility in Warden, Wash.
“The Pacific Northwest will plant more spring canola and new growers in the region are increasing,” says PNW Canola Association Executive Director Karen Sowers. “The production per acre has gone up due to better genetics and grower management.”
There are a lot of regional sources of canola seed, where variety trials have been occurring for 30 years. Moreover, the PNW is attracting canola research funding; the National Canola Research Program just awarded the University of Idaho $293,000 for this purpose.
The PNW Canola Association is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to get insurance coverage for canola. It is conducting field tours in several locations to inspire growers to adopt this high-demand crop.
Emtman Brothers Farms hosted USCA board members and staff on its fourth-generation family farm, where it grows 2,500-3,000 acres of spring canola and direct harvests without pod shattering. It’s in the Palouse valley, which has some of the richest farmland in the world, notes grower Randy Emtman. Moreover, this area has little disease pressure and just a few insects (i.e., diamondback moth, cut worms) to manage.
At the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Spokane following the USCA meeting, a panel of growers and other stakeholders spoke about the benefits of canola in the PNW. Canola cleans up wheat fields, according to three growers who presented. Eric Odberg of Odberg Farms says he seeds winter wheat into canola stubble, achieving good wheat yields as a result.
“I grow canola because it makes me a better wheat grower,” echoes David Brewer. Canola allows him to control grassy weeds in wheat, increasing yields by 10 percent, as well as spread out the workload on his farm. He uses the same equipment for canola as he does for cereal crops. He even credits canola with saving his house from a wildfire because it doesn’t burn as quickly as wheat!
The break in chemistries and plant type also allows for a different timeline for irrigation and water use, notes grower Dennis Swinger. Moreover, canola is super easy to harvest and its residue breaks down easily.
“When growers ask, ‘why should I grow canola?’ I reply, ‘how can you afford not to?’” he says.
Crush and Renewable Diesel Plants
The newish, expeller-press Viterra plant is largely to credit for increased canola acreage in the PNW as a point of sale for seed. About 250,000 acres of canola per year are needed for this plant to operate at full capacity. While less than half currently comes from the region, Viterra expects to eventually source all of it locally.
“The Viterra plant is a huge driver of canola production,” confirms Ray Mosman, president of the PNW Canola Association and Idaho grower.
Another opportunity for canola growers in the PNW is a forthcoming renewable diesel market. Diamond Green Diesel is building a 400-million-gallon plant in Ferndale, Wash., by 2021. This advanced biofuel, which performs like petroleum but comes from 100 percent renewable sources, can be used in a wide range of vehicles and converted into jet fuel.
The one major challenge in the PNW is legislation in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley. The Oregon Department of Agriculture reinstated for three years a 500-acre canola limit in the valley, citing unfounded concerns about cross-pollination with specialty seed producers.
“We could not even fill the 500-acre quota this year,” says Oregon grower Anna Scharf, largely due to discouraging politics. Yet the potential for canola production in the Willamette Valley is enormous. This was only offset a little by other growing areas in the state, which totaled 4,500 acres of canola this year. Meanwhile, “hemp is exploding in Oregon” as a new crop, laments Scharf.
Nevertheless, regional opportunities for canola far outweigh the challenges. That’s why the panel at the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention was aptly entitled “Canola Production and Marketing in the PNW: Why it’s Working and Here to Stay.”
Angela Dansby is communications director of the U.S. Canola Association. Learn more by following pnwcanola on Instagram and Facebook.