Wheat farmers tout canola’s benefit in Umatilla County

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Tyson Raymond began planting winter canola in rotation with his wheat crop three years ago. That makes this summer the first time Raymond, a farmer outside of Helix, will harvest wheat from a field where he previously had canola in the ground.

So far, the results are looking good.

“Up to this point, it’s the most even and healthiest-looking wheat on my farm,” Raymond said. “It looks like a 10-15 bushels (per acre) better stand of wheat.”

About 50 local farmers, industry and university partners gathered Thursday along South Juniper Canyon Road in rural Umatilla County for a tour of area canola fields, hosted by Oregon State University Extension Service.

A line of pickup trucks formed a caravan on the gravel roads, passing fields owned by Raymond, Jeff Newtson and Kirk Terjeson. The brilliant yellow canola stood out in contrast against the patchwork of still-green wheat and brown fallow soil.

More growers are starting to plant canola for its field rotation benefits, said Don Wysocki, extension soil scientist with OSU. Wysocki, who led the tour with OSU Extension Regional Administrator Mary Corp, said canola helps break up diseases in the soil and boosts stronger wheat yields.

In addition, recent canola prices have made it a financially competitive option, Wysocki said.

“It’s trended upward over the last three years,” he said. “What determines whether it goes up or down will be weather and price.”

There are currently between 9,000 and 12,000 acres of canola planted in Umatilla County. Winter wheat, of course, is a major part of the local agricultural economy, with 239,000 acres planted and another 180,000 acres in Morrow County.

Standing next to one of his canola fields down in the canyon, Newtson said moisture has been the real limiting factor this year. The area hasn’t seen the same number of spring showers as farther south in Pendleton.

Bouts of freezing weather also led to some winter kill in stands, Newtson said. He had to re-seed about 70 acres to spring canola to make up the difference.

Pest control is another challenge, especially tiny aphids and the cabbage seedpod weevil. Farmers listened carefully for advice about when and what type of insecticides to apply on canola.

“We’re still learning how to grow this here. That’s the difficult thing,” Newtson said. “It’s still kind of a big experiment right now.”

Newtson’s family has been planting canola on and off in rotation for 20 years. They market their seed through Pendleton Grain Growers, and typically sell to crushers in Washington state.

With 1,200 acres planted this year, Newtson figures they can harvest between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds of seed. But the real benefit, he said, is the ability to clean some grassy weeds and cheat grass out of his fields.

“It just gives us the ability to clean up some fields, and have a rotation that’s beneficial to your wheat crop,” Newtson said. “I think you see more acreage every year.”

When it comes to canola, Newtson said Wysocki is the local authority. His trials seeding winter canola earlier in the summer — in June or July as opposed to August and September — has helped the rotation gain further traction in the region, taking advantage of added moisture in the ground.

“These guys have been doing this the past three years or so, and having some success at it, at least getting stands going,” Wysocki said. “It’s been good to see this develop.”

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