Tuesday, May 14, 2013
It will still be a few weeks before Kansas horizons are filled with golden fields of wheat, but some southern Kansas fields have already taken on a lighter, brighter shade of gold.
Farmers and researchers hope those brightly flowering plants become more common across the state and that the crop they produce -- canola -- will diversify the state's crop portfolio.
"If you're lucky enough to hit a high market, it's a real valuable crop," said Sedgwick County farmer Larry Reichenberger, who planted his first canola crop last fall.
Canola oil is low in trans fats, but high in demand. That has driven canola prices to $13.50 per bushel, which gives farmers like Reichenberger incentive to try it out.
"With the production problems we're having with dryland soybeans and dryland milo because of the recent drought, we were looking for another crop to put in rotation," he said.
That rotation could mean more profitability from other crops like wheat, according to Kansas State University canola breeder Mike Stamm.
"Our research has shown anywhere from around a 10-percent to a 40-percent increase in wheat yields that first year following winter canola," Stamm said.
Canola acres in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma have increased steadily over the last 10 years. Farmers in both states planted a total of nearly 300,000 acres of the oil crop this year. Stamm said there's room for more.
"We import 85 percent of all the canola oil that we consume in the U.S. from Canada primarily," he said. "So there's a lot of potential for growth for this crop in the U.S."
Another thing farmers like about canola is it requires much less water than corn or soybeans.
"This takes advantage of the winter precipitation and cooler weather," Mike Patry, a Sedgwick County farmer considering planting canola said. "For this area, it might be a pretty good fit."
However, a few challenges remain. The pods containing canola seeds shatter easily, reducing crop yields. There also are not many Kansas elevators accepting canola. That will drive up transportation costs.
"The local delivery point here is going to be about 50 miles away," Reichenberger said. "You can work with an over-the-road trucker and either take it to Goodland or take it to Oklahoma City."