Non-traditional growing regions increase canola acres

Canola production in Saskatchewan is expected to expand by a million acres this year, which raises the question: where are these acres coming from?

Although overland flooding drowned out a large chunk of land in southeastern Saskatchewan in 2011, canola growers in the province still seeded 9.8 million acres, shattering the previous record of 7.9 million.

If provincial growers do plant 10.8 million acres of canola, as predicted by Statistics Canada in April, the expansion can likely be explained by two factors: more farmers are growing canola on canola and more producers are now growing the crop in the province’s hotter and drier regions.

Venkata Vakulabharanam, an oilseed specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, identified the canola-on-canola trend earlier this year in a report about canola trends in the province.

For instance, in 2008 canola was grown on canola on 150 fields in the dark brown zone, which runs southeast to northwest across the centre of the province. In 2010, canola was seeded into canola stubble on about 460 fields.

Brett Halstead, chair of the Saskatchewan Canola Commission, said that in 2010, canola was grown on about 1,700 fields on land that had grown canola the year before, compared to about 850 fields in 2008.

“We don’t encourage canola on canola, even on one year,” he said.

However, he said the figures aren’t shocking, considering that there are 25,000 registered producers in the province and that canola has been trading well above $10 per bushel for a couple of years.

Halstead said canola every fourth year remains a typical rotation in the brown and dark brown soil zones, while every other year is most common in the province’s black and gray soils, followed by two and three years between canola crops.

Shorter crop rotations may partly explain canola’s continued expansion in Saskatchewan, but additional acres in non-traditional growing regions are also a part of the story.

Tim Wiens, who farms near Herschel, Sask., northwest of Rosetown, said producers who have traditionally grown lentils and cereals in his area have learned that canola is also a viable crop

“In my part of the world, we are a big lentil growing area. In the last 10 years, every year, there’s been more and more canola grown,” said Wiens, who grows canola on one-third of his 2,000 acres.

“I see guys who have tried a few acres of canola before, and had good success, want to continue that and expand their acres.”

Halstead said more growers south of Kindersley and Rosetown are growing the oilseed now because the latest varieties can withstand hotter and drier conditions.

“These new canolas, new genetics and the hybrid canola seed, definitely take heat and cold stress much better than the canola of 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.

“If you do get it up and established in moisture, it will survive that July heat a little better than 20 years ago.”

Monty Reich, manager of South West Terminal in Gull Lake, Sask., said improved canola varieties have made a difference in a region he described as the “desert belt.”

He estimated that the company has quadrupled its canola seed sales over the last several years because more producers want to grow the oilseed.

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