Canola outlook is good

LANGDON, N.D. -- The fields around Langdon, N.D., are bright with the vivid yellow of blooming canola. Advocates for the crop say canola's future is bright, too. "The demand for canola isn't slowing down, and there are more options for farmers wh...

Canola test plots
Test plots with flowering canola at the NDSU Research Extension Center in Langdon, N.D. (Jonathan Knutson / Agweek)

LANGDON, N.D. -- The fields around Langdon, N.D., are bright with the vivid yellow of blooming canola.

Advocates for the crop say canola's future is bright, too.

"The demand for canola isn't slowing down, and there are more options for farmers who grow it," says Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Association in Bismarck, N.D.

Coleman was among the speakers at a July 8 canola tour at the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Langdon. About 80 farmers, researchers and industry officials attended.

North Dakota is the nation's leading canola producer, and Langdon and its research center have deep ties to the crop.


Research at the center in the 1970s helped bring canola to the attention of farmers in the Langdon area and elsewhere in northeastern North Dakota, where cool nights favor the crop.

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

Canola acreage subsequently rose, and today, Cavalier County, in which Langdon is located, leads North Dakota in canola production.

Many farmers in the Langdon area rotate wheat and canola on their fields, occasionally mixing in crops such as soybeans, sunflowers, flax or barley.

Planting winter wheat after canola is harvested can be particuarly attractive, says John Lukach, an agronomist at the Langdon center.

"Winter wheat and canola have been called a match made in heaven," he says.

Farmers with a canola/winter wheat rotation need to make sure they fertilize properly, paying particular attention to sulfur, which is essential to

plant growth and nutrition, Lukach says.


Disease is a concern

But a rotation of wheat and canola can lead to disease problems, says Luis del Rio, NDSU canola pathologist.

Rotating only wheat and canola on the same field can worsen blackleg, a common and destructive canola disease, he says.

"We need to lengthen the rotations," planting canola every three or four years instead of every other year on a field, he says.

Farmers are aware of the importance of using canola in a longer rotation, says Ryan Pederson, a Rolette, N.D., farmer and president of the Northern Canola Growers Association.

Farmers should be optimistic in their battle against blackleg, del Rio says.

"We can manage this thing," he says.

Progress also is being made in the fight against sclerotinia, another crop disease that strikes canola, he says.


Eight years of trials at the Langdon center show that planting canola earlier on averages produces higher yields than planting it later, says Bryan Hanson, an agronomist at the center.

Canola planted on May 1 averaged about 2,500 pounds per acre, with the yields falling over time to about 1,800 pounds per acre for canola planted in mid-July, according to information presented at the tour.

Prices move higher

Canola prices have shot higher this summer, reflecting heavy rains in Canada's prairie provinces, says James Loewen, an Altona, Manitoba-based grain manager for Bunge.

Loewen, who has long ties to North Dakota canola's industry, spoke at the Langdon field tour.

Canada is the world's leading producer and exporter of canola, a contraction of "Canadian oil, low acid" -- or can ola.

Canola 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.

Canola prices this spring were pressured downward by expectations that Canadian farmers were planting more acres to the crop because of its relatively attractive prices, Loewen says.


Statistics Canada estimated in mid-June that farmers in the prairie provinces planted 17.7 million acres of canola. That number was based on a survey of farmers in late May and early June.

But the actual number is expected to be much lower because heavy rains in early June kept many farmers from planting fields, Loewen says.

Canola is averaging about 17 cents per pound at area elevators surveyed weekly by Agweek.

The average price was about 15 cents per pounds two months ago.

It's unclear how much higher canola prices might go, Loewen says.

Outlook for crop is good

Both the short- and longer-term outlook for canola is positive, Coleman says.

In North Dakota, 83 percent of canola was rated good or excellent on July 11, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


"The crop looks good," he says.

The crop promises to be a big one, too, given a huge increase in planted acres.

USDA says North Dakota farmers planted 1.35 million acres of canola this spring. That's nearly double the 730,000 acres a year ago.

In Minnesota, 2010 acreage is estimated at 27,000, up from 13,000 a year ago.

In Montana, acreage this year is pegged at 21,000, up from 6,500 in 2009.

Pederson, the Rolette farmer, says he doesn't want to get his hopes up until the crop is harvested.

"But it's looking good, and with all the additional acres, we could have a lot more crop to sell this year," he says.

Canola continues to be attractive to food manufacturers and buyers, and that doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon, Coleman says.


However, canola is facing more competition from palm oil, he says.

Canola boosters will continue to emphasize marketing the crop, he says.

Farmers who grow canola have more options when choosing among chemicals to treat their crops, he says.

They also can choose among more and better seed varieties, which "has really helped this industry," Coleman says.

New seed varieties have helped boost yields through the years, he says.

In Cavalier County, for instance, canola yielded 1,910 pounds per acre in 2009 and 1,754 pounds per acre in 2008, compared with 1,463 pounds in 2001, according to statistics from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA.

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