Canola suffers under northern U.S. drought

It’s been well reported that spring wheat is suffering from drought this year in the U.S. northern Plains, but canola is, too.

“We’re supposed to hit 100 F here the next couple of days, while it’s in bloom,” John Rickertsen, a North Dakota State University extension agronomist at Hettinger, 20 kilo-metres from the South Dakota border, said July 5.

“On top of it, with the dry conditions, we’re dealing with spotty (plant) stands. It’s not a great canola year.”

It’s been incredibly dry in southwestern North Dakota with the area so parched that locals can cite the last time it rained.

“Right in our region, around Hettinger … we had our last significant rain in April,” Rickertsen said.

Rainfall in some parts of western North Dakota and other areas of the northern Plains have been 100 to 125 mm below normal since March.

The U.S. National Drought Monitor has classified the dryness in parts of the region as a D3, or ex-treme drought.

The most severe classification is D4, an exceptional drought.

More days with 30 to 35 C and little rain are forecast for the next couple of weeks, so the canola crop is unlikely to improve.

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“We do expect our canola yields, like all our crop yields … are definitely going to be down,” Rickertsen said. “I’ll be honest. In some places you might be looking at a crop failure if it doesn’t do something rain-wise, soon.”

The crop is faring better in other parts of the state, such as the northeast and north-central regions.

Most of the crop is grown in that part of North Dakota, which re-ceived more rain in spring and early summer.

“For the most part the (canola) is doing quite well, because a lot of it is in that northern third,” said Barry Coleman, executive director of Northern Canola Growers.

Nonetheless, 30 C and sunny weather are forecast for the first couple of weeks of July, increasing the risk of heat blast and reduced yields.

“If you’ve got a good canopy and moisture down below, will that prevent it from getting heat blast? Probably not. We’ll see,” Coleman said. “But definitely the canola that’s dry underneath, that’s going to suffer.”

Last year the average canola yield in the state was 1,840 pounds per acre, or 37 bu.

Yields will likely be lower this fall, but North Dakota could still produce as much canola seed because acreage is much higher than last year, when there were 1.46 million acres.

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Farmers seeded an estimated 1.7 million acres of canola, significantly higher than earlier projections of 1.5 million.

“It was the biggest surprise the canola industry has ever had, as far as acreage,” Coleman said.

Strong yields and a positive vibe around the crop likely pushed acres up.

“The last five years we’ve had great canola crops every year,” Coleman said, noting many growers are now targeting 2,500 to 3,000 lb. per acre yields.

The story is similar in southwestern North Dakota, where acres have been expanding. Canola growers have avoided droughts for several years and generated decent yields, but this year may be an exception.

“We’ve had some very productive years … and it’s been a profitable crop for us,” Rickertsen said.

“This area is growing a fair amount of canola now.”

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