Its Healthy oil is in strong demand for food and fuel, and the crop provides a great rotational alternative for winter wheat. So it's not surprising that winter canola has claimed more acres in the Plains states and beyond in recent years. In 2006, more than 60,000 acres were planted in Kansas and Oklahoma alone, according to the U.S. Canola Association.

Although winter canola has a long way to go to catch up with spring canola acreage (around 1 million acres annually), new varieties are broadening winter canola's viability and yield potential across a wider geography. And a newly expanded oilseed-crushing plant in Oklahoma City, owned by several farmer cooperatives, provides a ready buyer and competitive prices for farmers in Kansas and other neighboring states.

“At the current 15-cent-per-pound price, canola is competitive with wheat, from an economics standpoint,” notes Jeff Koscelny, specialty crops manager for the Dekalb brand. “It requires a little more care at planting because of the small seeds. You need a firmer seedbed and more precise planting depth to get the best germination. But once the plant has gotten to the two- to three-leaf stage, it's a fairly robust crop.”

The biggest benefit of working canola (a broadleaf plant) into a wheat rotation is that it allows for better control of problem weeds, especially winter annual grasses. “It also breaks the cycle of key diseases and pests that are common in winter wheat, such as soilborne mosaic viruses and Hessian fly,” Koscelny says.

“A canola crop helps break up hardpan and improve soil condition, which usually results in better wheat yields the following year,” he continues. “And farmers can use the same equipment for planting and harvesting canola that they use for winter wheat.”

Roundup Ready varieties also offer the added convenience of broad-spectrum weed control in a single pass. “And all Dekalb winter canola varieties are available pretreated with both fungicide and insecticide to help alleviate concerns with diseases and insects in the fall,” Koscelny says.

The main rotational consideration with winter canola is previous herbicide use, notes John VanDam, canola product manager for Croplan Genetics. “Canola is susceptible to some broadleaf herbicides with long residual, including sulfonylureas [Ally, Glean, Finesse and Amber], imidazolinones [Pursuit, Beyond and Raptor], and triazine such as atrazine,” he says. “Using atrazine on a corn crop early in the season shouldn't be a problem for fall-planted canola, but if the atrazine is applied later in the season, it could be.”

VanDam notes that one winter canola variety developed at Kansas State University — Sumner — is tolerant of sulfonylureas and imidazolinone herbicides but sacrifices some yield potential. “If you can plan ahead a bit, you should be able to avoid problems with herbicide residual and still maximize yields,” he says.

Here's a quick look at two new winter canola varieties:

Dekalb — DKW13-69. Dekalb states that increased winter hardiness and improved yield are key traits of this new variety. According to the company, it also has increased oil content over other winter canolas (1 to 2% more), has excellent seedling vigor and is a medium-maturing plant. This Roundup Ready variety performs well on most soil types and fits a fairly wide range of growing regions. For more information, visit www.asgrowanddekalb.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 112.

Croplan Genetics — HyCLASS 107W. Croplan Genetics describes this new Roundup Ready variety as being open pollinated, with very good winter hardiness and consistent yield across a variety of geographic conditions. For more information, visit www.croplangenetics.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 113.

Related article from this issue: Better N Use