Canola can be a good fit for grain growers, but there are some production problems, primarily on the front-end of production and at harvest time that growers should consider before jumping into production says North Carolina State University Organic Crops Specialist Chris Reberg-Horton.

Horton, who works primarily with organically grown canola, says many of the challenges of growing canola in the Southeast are common, regardless of whether the crop is grown organically or conventionally.

“One of the biggest problems canola growers face in the Southeast is how and when to harvest the crop. With canola it’s easy to go from ‘we don’t think its ready’ to ‘it’s laying on the ground,’ Horton says.

In conventionally grown canola, some growers use dessicants, much like cotton growers use defoliants, to get the crop ready for a more uniform harvest. The problem is a lack of labeled materials for use as dessicant.

Reglone, which includes diquat as the primary active ingredient, was recently labeled for use in canola by the EPA and state registrations as of late June were in place in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Kansas. The product is being marketed by Syngenta.

A big issue with canola harvest is whether to straight cut or direct cut, versus using a swather, which is something like a rotary mower that is used to cut canola in Canada and the Great Plains. Swathing leaves the crop on the ground to mature for later combining. The practice is not common in the Southeast.

Having a dessicant available will make straight or direct cutting easier and save growers a lot of time in the overall harvest process. And, using a dessicant and direct combining should produce yields comparable to fields that are swathed.

“Greening is always an issue with canola. If you wait for the green material to go away, the crop is often on the ground. Varieties that are only different developmentally by a few days can still have a big harvest loss, if you wait to combine the crop,” Horton notes.

The concave bar on the combine can be set more open for canola than for wheat, though that may sound backwards, Horton adds. Canola is very free-threshing, if you get in the field at the right time. It doesn’t take much to open the seed up and you have a tremendous volume of material passing through the combine, he explains.

On the other end of the spectrum, many growers have stayed away from canola because there have been so few varieties available to growers in the Southeast. Most canola varieties were bred for conditions in the Great Plains states and Canada.