The decision by Osage Bio to not open their Hopewell, Va., ethanol plant put a big crimp in the plans of grain farmers in Virginia, North Carolina and the Del Marva area.

Many growers are looking for an alternative crop to plant or to augment their wheat production.

Winter canola can be a good fit for small grain growers from a timing standpoint. Planting and harvest are generally in the same time period as wheat, but typically canola can be planted on the front end or back end of wheat planting and harvested on either end as well.

Canola in North Carolina and most of Virginia should be planted six weeks prior to the first hard freeze, typically around Oct. 15. Planting later can be a good gamble, because barring a hard freeze there isn’t much else that can damage canola until the springtime.

Harvesting must be timely, because growers are typically docked when more than 10 percent green seed occur in harvested canola. In tests near Goldsboro, N.C., canola was planted Nov. 1 and harvested June 2, with very little green seed in the combine.

The same equipment, with minor alterations, can be used to plant and harvest canola and wheat. One of the alterations has to do with the tiny size of canola seed. Newer combines are sealed properly to handle seed size, but older equipment may require additional sealing to combine and transport canola.

Though canola and wheat are similar in some areas of production, from a biological perspective there are few direct correlations between the two crops.

Canola is a broadleaf crop, which significantly opens up the herbicide options for controlling winter grasses. With all the problems growers in the Upper Southeast are having managing Italian ryegrass, canola in the rotation may make a lot of sense.

Canola and wheat don’t have any major diseases in common. So, canola in the rotation will help with disease management as much as it helps with weed and grass management.

Perhaps most importantly to growers, wheat behind canola typically produces 10-15 percent higher yield than wheat behind wheat. With the recent trend toward high wheat prices, bumping yields up can be a significant economic factor for growers.

From a marketing perspective, canola is an oil crop — primarily — and is not tied to the price of grain, which can spread out the risk of price fluctuations from year to year.