Standing in the middle of a seemingly endless field of beautiful, bright yellow flowering canola, Dillon, S.C., grower Daniel Coleman says the new crop is proving to be a good fit into his family’s farming operation.
Coleman is among a growing cadre of South Carolina growers, most in the PeeDee region of the state, who have begun growing canola for Hart AgStrong, a Bowersville, Ga.,-based canola oil processing facility.
He says the crop fits in well with other grain crops grown in the family farming operation headquartered near Florence, S.C. The plan, he says, is to grow canola behind corn, double-crop the canola with soybeans, grow wheat double-cropped with soybeans and then come back to corn.
In recent years he says soybean yields have held fairly stable at 40-plus bushels per acre. “Last year was a near perfect year for wheat and beans. We stayed on top of our double-crop beans and were able to get our canola planted by mid-October and our wheat planted prior to Thanksgiving,” he explains.
Growing canola in the Southeast is a steep learning curve at best, but the young South Carolina grower says he has some excellent help from outside sources.
“The main go-to guy for us on canola is Brian Caldbeck, who works with Rubisco Seed Company in Kentucky. We planted three of their hybrid canola varieties, and Brian was here in person or looking at pictures I sent him all the time during the growing season,” Coleman says.
He also got plenty of help from Mike Garland, who is crop development manager with Hart AgStrong. “Mike was riding with me in the combine when we cut our canola last year and pointed out some of the high yields we were getting in parts of different fields,” Coleman explains.
“We averaged about 60 bushels per acre in the extremely hot and dry spring of 2012, which is about what most of the canola growers in this area averaged, but it was clear to see the potential of what we could grow, if we got everything right,” he adds.
Garland says one of the side benefits of growing canola is improved soil structure, which should result in increased soybean yields in fields grown behind canola
Expects higher wheat yields
Coleman adds that he expects to see increased wheat yields in fields following canola, then soybeans. “We haven’t harvested any of the wheat yet, but looking at the deep green color and vigor of the plants, we are expecting to see some yield advantages, he says.
Though canola has been grown sporadically over the past few years in the Southeast, production of the crop is very new to most growers and relatively new to growers across the U.S.
Currently, approximately one million acres of canola is grown in the U.S. While the Southeast has the climate to produce the highest canola yields, plus producing soybeans or another second crop, the region actually produces the least amount of canola.
Most growers in the Southeast know little about the crop, most thinking canola is a plant. Actually canola is rapeseed developed conventionally from breeding lines of Brassica napus and Brassica rapa. The name canola comes from Canada Oil Low Acid.
Canola seeds contain 40-46 percent oil with the remainder of the seed being processed into meal, a high protein livestock feed. The oil is an excellent feedstock for biodiesel.
It also has the lowest saturated fat and highest unsaturated fat of all vegetable oil, it's cholesterol-free and is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
“Our whole farm is no-till, and if the planter or combine is running there’s a real good chance I’m in it,” Coleman says with a grin. “The first thing I had to learn was that canola requires the proper set up of planting and harvesting equipment,” he adds.
He used plant sweeps ahead of the planter to move corn debris out of the way and to keep the planting rows clean. “We learned early on the importance of getting canola to grow close to the ground after planting. If you plant it in heavy litter, the crown, or rosette of the plant can be above the ground. If you get freezing weather, the litter will freeze and can kill the plant,” he adds.
Trash sweeps helped
The trash sweeps help produce a good seed bed for the canola. He also plants canola between rows of the previous corn crop, which eliminates any mistakes he made planting the corn earlier in the spring.
“I used the GPS system on our tractor to plant canola the first year. By following the corn rows, it was easier to plant without the GPS system on this year. We use the GPS extensively on other crops, but planting canola in the corn row middles just makes it easier — takes away any errors in setting up the GPS system on the previous crop,” he says.
“We also learned in our first crop of canola that the plants will tell you when they need fertilizer and when they need fungicide. We used the same amount of fertilizer on all our canola, but as the crop began to grow quickly in the spring, we could see light spots in some fields.
“We came back with additional nitrogen and these lighter spots quickly caught up with the greener canola” he adds.
Sclerotinia can be a problem in canola — we’ve had some, but not much of a problem with it so far, he says. However, it’s easy to spot when you have the disease in a field and easy to manage with fungicides, he adds.
Coleman plants three different Rubisco varieties: Safran, which is a late maturing variety, Kronos, which is a mid-maturing variety and Dimension, which is a low vernilization, early maturing variety. The idea is to spread maturity out to give time to work in other crops.
And, the primary reason is to reduce risk of damage from weather patterns that typically generate high springtime temperatures and to take better advantage of sporadic rain that is common during the latter part of the growing season in the area.
Claire Caldbeck of Rubisco Seeds concurs with Coleman’s use of several hybrids for risk management and notes that evaluations of winter canola germplasm in the Southeast were rekindled in 2004.
Research trials and commercial grower results demonstrated very quickly the adaptability and impressive field performance of conventional canola hybrids.
Driven by bushels in the bin
Caldbeck adds that ultimately growers’ satisfaction with the crop is driven by “bushels in the bin”.
The primary objective of Rubisco Seeds is to continually evaluate and introduce high yielding winter canola germplasm to regional farmers. Significant investment in hybrid testing in the southern U.S., including at Clemson University, in addition to continual development of best management practices are vital for the integration of this crop into innovative farmers’ rotations.
Rubisco Seeds’ hybrids are available through a network of retailers in the Southeast.
Coleman says this year’s canola crop has been slowed by consistently cool late winter and spring weather. North Carolina recorded the fourth coldest March in history, and the South Carolina grower says conditions weren’t much different on his family’s farm, which is only a few miles from the North Carolina border.
Despite the cool weather, Coleman says he still plans to have the canola cut and soybeans planted by mid-June.
He will sell his canola to Hart AgStrong and says the company’s willingness to set up buying and storage points with area growers will save him valuable time as he makes the transition from cool season to warm season crops.
Garland says, “Our company is committed to strengthening Southern agriculture one family farm at a time, working with growers like Daniel Coleman and his family in South Carolina.”
He says AgSouth will continue to offer acre contracts with the opportunity to fix a basis before planting.
Trish DeHond is an area Extension agronomist for Clemson University, and she has worked with the Colemans and other PeeDee farmers to develop canola production in the PeeDee.
DeHond has worked with a number of South Carolina growers who are growing canola and says most are optimistic about growing the crop in the future.
“We are happy to see canola is making a comeback in South Carolina and also glad to have a strong market for this crop.” Clemson Extension is conducting canola variety trials at the PeeDee Research and Education Center near Florence, as well as developing an enterprise budget for canola producers,” she adds
Growers interested in growing canola this fall can contact DeHond or Gunter at Clemson University, Brian or Claire Caldbeck at Rubisco Seed Company, or Mike Garland with Hart AgStrong.
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