Brothers Lee and Jay Leeper, who farm near Dacoma, Oklahoma, are sold. The brothers converted to no-till from conventional-till nearly a decade ago, and they found winter canola the perfect crop to clean up problem weeds.
“We knew that continuous no-till wheat would present some problems, and there was a lot of university interest in winter canola,” Lee says. “After several years of canola in our rotation, our wheat is really clean. We have no problems with dockage when we take wheat to the elevator, and we’ve seen yield increases due to crop rotation.”
The Leepers grow Roundup Ready canola, giving them a needed weapon to combat yield-robbing grassy weeds such as rye and cheat.
For years, Mike Stamm, canola breeder at Kansas State University, has heard anecdotal evidence that farmers who plant wheat in a rotation after canola see sizeable yield boosts compared with continuous wheat.
Research at Kansas State backs that up. Three locations across Kansas in 2012 showed a 5- to 17-bushel-per-acre increase in wheat yields following canola compared with wheat following wheat.
“One of the things we believe to be at play is that the canola taproot has the ability to cycle nutrients. The deep taproots also mellow the soil and improve water penetration into the soil profile,” Stamm says.
Winter canola agronomics are similar to those of winter wheat. Winter canola is planted two to three weeks ahead of winter wheat, and harvest is usually a bit earlier. Researchers have yield trials from College Station, Texas, to the Nebraska panhandle showing varying degrees of success.
“In Northern climates, you run a bit more risk of winterkill,” Stamm says. “Planting dates are critical because stands need to be established before winter sets in.”
You can use the same equipment to plant and harvest. Planting rate of winter canola is about 4 pounds per acre compared with about 60 pounds per acre for winter wheat. Canola requires about a third more nitrogen than winter wheat. Potassium and phosphorous needs are similar.
The Leepers use a John Deere air hoe drill to plant. They can place dry fertilizer alongside the seed.
As an oilseed crop, winter canola fetches a $2- to $3-per-bushel premium over winter wheat, which makes up for a slightly reduced yield. The Leepers aim for 45-bushel-per-acre wheat and 35-bushel-per-acre canola.
Timely harvest is critical because canola can shatter if left in the field too long.
Marketing can be a challenge, although some grain elevators in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma have dedicated collection points. The Leepers’ local elevator handles canola, so marketing the crop isn’t an issue for them.
They grow wheat on about half of their 5,500 acres, with canola and grain sorghum grown on the balance. The crop sequence typically is wheat-canola-grain sorghum-wheat, although it is not set.
“There are times when we’ve gone back to wheat right after canola, and we see the yield boost everyone talks about,” Lee says.
“There are people who aren’t on the canola bandwagon yet. I tell them it’s just a tool to grow better wheat,” he adds. “Wheat will always be king in this country, but canola has a bright future.”
(Source – http://www.agriculture.com/crops/wheat/production/cola-boosts-wheat-yields_145-ar47750)