Canola leaders cite benefits of late planting

FARGO, N.D. -- As Kevin Waslaski surveys the potential canola crop in Cavalier County in Langdon, N.D., he thinks it might be optimistic to think that 80 percent might be planted this year. Ditto for the Canadian growers to the north of him.

FARGO, N.D. -- As Kevin Waslaski surveys the potential canola crop in Cavalier County in Langdon, N.D., he thinks it might be optimistic to think that 80 percent might be planted this year. Ditto for the Canadian growers to the north of him.

Even so, he and other canola industry promoters still are asking farmers to consider the advantages of planting late, and having a crop, vs. letting prevent-plant crop insurance kick in.

Reasons to wait

Barry Coleman, executive director of the state organization called the Northern Canola Growers Association, recently reminded growers of three reasons to keep focused on planting and not prevent-plant crop insurance programs.

-- The pace of canola planting in the state isn't far off the pace of 2009, when canola yields hit a record 1,819 pounds per acre.


-- Canola prices are "the highest ever seen at this time of year," and spring weather has the potential to cause "explosively higher canola prices." For every 1 percent reduction in yield because of late planting, producers might expect a price increase to "more than make up the difference."

-- Actual grower experience. Canola planted in mid-June in north-central and east growing areas of North Dakota still yielded 1,600 pounds per acre. Some had yields in excess of 2,000 pounds.

Prevent-plant isn't where the industry wants to go, Waslaski says.

"We're fortunate to have the insurance coverage we have, but for the most part, I don't think anyone wants to sit there and see black ground all summer. Nobody's looking to fallow their whole farm," he says.

"Right now, I'm sitting here, and I don't know if 5 percent of the acres are seeded as yet," Waslaski says. "We're getting to the point where we're needing to get on that ground and the sun to shine."

Waslaski, president of the U.S. Canola Growers based in Washington, says the Rolette, N.D., area may have 30 percent of the crop seeded. The Rugby, N.D., area may be up to half planted.

"On our farm, we've planted three, 50-acre hilltops," Waslaski says, noting he has plans to plant 1,200 acres on his Cavalier County farm if he can get it in.

Ironically, it is precisely canola's advantage to take up moisture and dry up ground that may affect this year's seeding percentage. Last year's canola ground, on average, is relatively dry, so probably will be planted to wheat or other crops first. Last year's wheat stubble is likely this year's canola ground and is drying out more slowly and may be planted later.


"I've heard some reports of guys having (seed) spread and then incorporating it with a harrow," Waslaski says. "That'll work if the moisture is there."

Seeking extensions

Waslaski says canola producers are trying to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency to get the crop insurance deadline extended on canola policies. Currently, that date is May 31 in Cavalier County and surrounding areas, and May 15 in the southwest part of the state.

Crop insurance gives a 1 percent payout reduction for the first five days the producer plants after that insurance date, and then cuts it 2 percent per day for the next 10 days.

The canola growers have funded a planting project to verify production results so that the dates can be extended to June 10 in his area.

"As a board, we've all planted into that period and haven't had any loss situations, as what we're giving up yield," Waslaski says.

The Risk Management Agency is science-based and will wait until there are enough test years to determine whether to change the planting date. The industry has asked for an extra 10 days.

New varieties


Waslaski says the new hybrid varieties, which have more weather tolerance -- either heat in the summer or frost. Canola grower organizations are trying to beef up canola breeding programs up and running at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Reduced production because of a poor planting year is important for the industry, but it's too early to get panicky. In 2010, growers had record acres and one of their best yields, making it one of the highest production years for canola.

With increased health claims for canola in recent years, there have been specialty seed companies coming to the region to contract acres this year. Nexera, a new line of canola from Dow AgroSciences, is an example. Victory Canola is a high-oleic specialty oil canola from Cargill.

"They only contracted so many acres, so if you get 80 percent of the total canola, they may get 80 percent of that, too," Waslaski says. "It's a numbers game."

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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