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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published October 02 2013

Great growing weather boosts region's canola crop

Nearly ideal growing conditions this summer and fall led to a bumper canola harvest, area farmers and agriculture officials say.

“Mother Nature couldn’t have written a better script,” says Ron Beneda, extension agent in Cavalier County, a key canola-growing area sometimes described as the “canola capital of North Dakota.” The state is the nation’s dominant canola producer.

The big 2013 crop is especially welcome after 2012, when too much heat at a key stage in the crop’s development hurt yields.

This year, an unusually wet spring in much of the state’s top canola region delayed planting and raised concern. But summer and early fall weather cooperated perfectly, allowing the crop to overcome its late start.

Cool July temperatures were a boon to canola, a cool-season grass. So was the lack of a September freeze, which allowed late-planted canola to mature properly, farmers and ag officials say.

“I haven’t heard from anyone who is disappointed with their canola. They all seemed quite pleased,” says Ryan Pederson, a Rolette, N.D., farmer.

On his own farm, early planted canola, which has been harvested, did better than he expected, he says.

Late-planted canola, some of which hasn’t been harvested yet, “just looked phenomenal all year. It will be interesting to see if the yields will be that much (better) than the early stuff,” he says.

September rains in parts of northern North Dakota, where canola is popular, have delayed the harvest of some swathed canola. But canola holds up relatively well in swathes and there’s no immediate cause for concern, Beneda says.

Canola also is grown in northwest Minnesota. Farmers in the state planted an estimated 21,000 acres this spring, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hugh Hunt, a Hallock, Minn., farmer who has raised canola since 1987, says this was his best canola crop ever.

In the crucial period when his canola was filling, “We had nice, cool weather. And we had moisture. And we filled and filled and filled.”

Modern canola seed also helped.

“It gives you more uniformity and yield potential,” he says.

Big Canadian crop

Canola was developed by Canadian scientists. Canada remains the world’s leading producer and exporter of the crop.

This fall, Canadian farmers are harvesting a record canola crop, says John Duvenaud, publisher of the Wild Oats Grain Market Advisory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“The yields are just remarkable. Farmer after farmer is saying how pleased they are with their yields,” Duvenaud says.

There have been anecdotal reports south of the border that late-September rains have hampered the harvest of canola and other crops on the Canadian prairies.

Duvenaud says such reports are overblown.

“There haven’t been too many problems with our harvest. Some rains have come through, but nothing that much out of the ordinary. Harvest is progressing quite well,” he says.

Strong consumer demand

U.S. canola growers have a strong, growing market. Canola oil is increasingly popular with U.S. consumers, and American farmers haven’t been able to raise enough of the crop to meet domestic demand. Canadian canola fills U.S. demand that American canola growers can’t meet.

“Consumers in general have been educated and understand the health benefits. The demand is there; we just need to be able to supply it,” Pederson says.

This year, because of the wet spring that complicated planting, “Our acres are down. But it looks like we’ll get the extra bushels (from higher yields) to offset that,” Pederson says.

North Dakota farmers planted an estimated 860,000 acres of canola this spring, down from 1.46 million acres in 2012, according to NASS.

Nationwide, farmers planted 1.3 million acres of the crop, down from 1.76 million acres last year.