After the bloom: Has canola run it's course in Kansas?
Truth be told, a bright yellow-flowering farm crop in Kansas may be growing nationwide according to USDA statistics, but in Pratt County and surrounding areas, farmers are taking a step back as they evaluate if this mostly ground-cover option is how they want to invest their hard-earned time and money.
According to Travis Kolm, an Agronomist and Crop Consultant who works with many farmers around Pratt County, several factors have local farmers steering away from canola crop production.
“A lot of growers have turned away from canola due to the poor winter hardiness and the lack of places to haul the crop once harvested,” Kolm said.
Canola is an oilseed crop. Nutrition labels on the back of any number of food products available in most U.S. grocery stores, including cooking oils, salad dressings, baked goods, shortenings, and more, list canola oil as an ingredient. Canola oil is made when the seeds from the plant are crushed.
Kolm said that most of the canola planted in Kansas is used as a rotational crop for wheat as it's primary purpose. Rotational cropping means to alternate planting different crops in the same field to optimize soil health and combat weeds and pests. In Pratt County, the biggest benefit of planting canola is to control rye and cheat grasses from taking root, he said.
Difficult weather conditions this year have the 2021 canola crop looking thin in many parts of Kansas. The crop is usually planted in the first two weeks of September, blooms in late April, and is harvested in late May or the first week of June. Kolm said that canola prefers a cool and moist climate. So when temperatures went below freezing in the polar vortex and the ground became very dry last winter a lot of the canola crop in Pratt County died. For the canola that did survive, plants have rebounded, but fields are just much thinner than an average year, making potential yields lower for those who plan to harvest it, but not necessarily of bad quality.
Kolm said that not only is it difficult to successfully grow canola in the harsh Kansas winters, but there are few places for growers to sell their canola grains at harvest. Few elevators take canola. Kolm said that the only one he knows of that takes canola on a regular basis is the one in Kiowa in Barber County. Some growers bag up their canola harvest themselves and hire trucks to cart it away, while others may choose to make the drive to Kiowa.
There may be an elevator in Sumner County that takes canola grain as well, but Kolm did not verify that information. In 2019, Tony Loehr, grain originator for Skyland Grain at Cunningham, reported that the Penalosa elevator near Cunningham was able to ship out canola by truck, sending it to Northern Sun, an ADM facility in Goodland. From there it was shipped out to various processing facilities.
As a cover crop canola may do its basic job of holding soil and preventing weed growth, and pollination experts appreciate it's bee-factor availability, but when it comes to actual profit, the verdict may still be out on the bottom-line benefits of growing canola, especially for farmers in Pratt County.