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Published March 04, 2010, 07:44 AM

N.D. farmers want more time to plant canola

Canola farmers in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are asking federal insurance officials for a few more days in the spring to get their crops in the ground, starting next year.

By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — Farmers in North Dakota, which grows nearly all of the nation’s canola, are asking federal insurance officials for a few more days in the spring to get their crops in the ground.

Such a move would not be unprecedented, and the regional director of the Agriculture Department agency that oversees crop insurance says the Risk Management Agency is willing to listen.

“We are always willing to consider new research and are aware that improvements are taking place in the seed industry every year,” Doug Hagel said.

Canola is used for its cooking oil, a common product on grocery store shelves. Farmers in North Dakota grow 90 percent of the nation’s crop. In recent years, they have found it tough to meet planting deadlines because of cool, wet springs.

Farmers see reduced crop insurance coverage if they fail to meet deadlines for planting their crops. In North Dakota, the canola deadlines range from May 10 in the southwest to May 31 in the northeast.

Crops planted after those dates are considered more susceptible to damage — either from extreme heat while the plant is flowering in the summer or from frost during the fall — increasing the likelihood of an insurance claim.

Barry Coleman, director of the Northern Canola Growers Association, said new varieties have lessened the chances for crop failures. He said research also is showing that canola planted later into warmer soils has better yields, meaning farmers have more crop to sell. Coleman said a 2 to 3 degree increase in soil temperature could mean a boost in yields of up to 20 percent.

The association is asking the Risk Management Agency to extend the canola planting deadlines in North Dakota by five days in each region, starting next year. The group’s counterpart in Minnesota is pushing for a similar extension in the northwest part of that state, Coleman said.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring is supporting the change. He and Coleman said a deadline extension might also benefit the government by reducing so-called “prevented planting” acres.

Farmers who can’t get their crops in the ground at all because of weather can collect a “prevented planting” payment through their crop insurance, though the amount is only a portion of what they might have earned from a crop.

Risk Management Agency data show that last year there were 208,000 acres of canola in North Dakota that fell under the prevented planting provision — more than one-fourth of the planted acreage in the state. The total paid out on those claims surpassed $31 million.

Giving farmers five more days to plant during a wet spring “would reduce the exposure to RMA in paying out prevented planting claims,” Coleman said.

In 2004, the Risk Management Agency approved a Northern Canola Growers request to move the planting deadline in northeast North Dakota from May 25 to the current May 31.

Hagel declined to speculate on when a decision on the latest request might come, saying the Risk Management Agency is still waiting for the association to provide research data supporting its request. Coleman said he hopes to submit that information by April and get a decision by early summer.