Canola suffers in northern U.S. drought

It’s been incredibly dry in southwestern North Dakota this year. The area is 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,” said John Rickertsen, a North Dakota State University extension agronomist in Hettinger, 20 kilometres from the South Dakota border.

Western North Dakota and other parts of the northern Plains are in drought with rainfall in some places 100 to 125 millimetres below normal since March.

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

The most severe classification is D4, an exceptional drought.

It’s been well reported that spring wheat is suffering in the region, but canola is, too.

“We’re supposed to hit 100 F here the next couple of days, while it’s in bloom,” Rickertsen 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.”

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.

“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 received 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.

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.”

Crop status in North Dakota

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its crop report for North Dakota July 5. It said:

  • Topsoil moisture rated as 24 percent very short, 30 percent short and 44 percent adequate.
  • Canola rated as seven percent very poor, 14 percent poor, 36 percent fair and 42 percent good.
  • Spring wheat rated as 11 percent very poor, 19 percent poor, 29 percent fair and 37 percent good.

Source: USDA

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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