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NDSU canola breeder Mukhlesur Rahman explains his recent research findings during the Canola Research Tour held Thursday, July 20, 2017 in Langdon, N.D. at the Langdon Research Extension Center (LREC). Nick Nelson/Agweek

Always more to learn about canola

LANGDON, N.D. — There's little, if any, sign of drought stress in canola fields in the Langdon, N.D., area. Scientists here and elsewhere in the state want that to continue — and to help canola farmers in general.

"There's a lot of research that can benefit people who raise canola. And we want to help make them more aware of what's being learned," said Bryan Hanson, North Dakota State University extension agronomist at the Langdon Research Extension Center.

Hanson was among the participants in the July 20 canola field day tour at the Langdon center. About 175 farmers, researchers and industry officials attended the event, which focused primarily on canola.

Though much of North Dakota is fighting drought, canola and other crops in the Langdon area generally are faring relatively well. Rainfall this summer is below normal, but the area received heavy precipitation in 2016. That created abundant subsoil moisture, helping crops hold up so far, Hanson said.

Fields at the extension center were muddy during the tour, the result of rain earlier in the week.

Versatile, popular

Canola is a versatile crop. Its seeds are crushed to produce oil and meal. Its oil has a reputation for being healthy and is in growing demand worldwide. The oil has many nonfood uses, too, including biofuels.

North Dakota dominates U.S. canola production. Farmers in the state planted most of the roughly 2 million canola acres nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Langdon and the research center have strong connections to the crop. Research at the center in the 1970s enhanced the crop's appeal to canola farmers in the Langdon area and elsewhere in northeastern North Dakota, where cool nights favor the crop.

That's been the case again this summer, which has brought mostly cool temperatures.

"It's been good canola weather," Hanson said.

Canadian plant breeders originally developed canola, a contraction of "Canadian oil, low acid" — or can ola — in the 1970s. Canada remains the world's leading producer and exporter.

Langdon — near the Canadian border — once was part of the so-called "durum triangle" because so much of that crop was grown there. But durum's popularity fell in the 1990s when scab, or Fusarium head blight, became a major problem, boosting canola's popularity in the area.

Though canola is popular and successful, researchers continue to look for ways to maintain and strengthen its appeal.

The scientists say ...

Though canola is popular and successful, researchers continue to look for ways to maintain and strengthen its appeal. Here's a short sampling of what experts said during the tour:

• Mukhlesur Rahman, NDSU canola breeder, said his breeding efforts seek to improve yields and oil content, disease resistance, root systems and frost tolerance.

• Insects are an ongoing, ever-evolving threat to canola production, said Janet Knodel, NDSU extension entomologist. The Japanese flea beetle and cabbage root maggot are two pests that pose a particular danger this year, she said.

• Naeem Kulwar, an NDSU extension soil health specialist, said high salt and sodium levels in fields can devastate yields of canola and other crops. He said planting salt-tolerant grass mixes on soil with high salt and sodium helps farmers in two ways: saving the high cost of planting canola or other crops would be crippled by salt/sodium; and providing hay that can be sold for considerably more than the modest cost of planting the grass.

Kent Schluchter, a Cavalier, N.D., farmer who attended the canola field day, said his time was well spent.

"There's so much research going on, and it's just hard for me to keep track of it. This (the field day) gives me a chance to catch up a little," he said.