Brothers Sonny and Tony Price grew up on a South Carolina farm, now farm together in a partnership, and have been involved in farming one way or another all their lives.

Prior to last year, neither had even seen canola growing, and now it’s a small, but integral part of their farming operation.

Last year they planted 97 acres of canola, and Sonny Price says the crop should fit in well with their crop rotation.

They currently grow more than 2,000 acres of cotton, about the same acreage of wheat and double-crop soybeans and 1,000 acres of corn.

They first got interested in canola after attending a meeting about rapeseed. Though rapeseed didn’t work out for them, it did start them thinking about the need for a fall-planted crop to rotate with wheat. Canola, Price says, seemed to be a good option.

“We met with Robert Davis and Mike Garland, who work with AgStrong, a North Georgia company that buys canola to crush for oil. They were very helpful in getting us set up to grow the crop and have been very supportive in helping us find better ways to grow it,” Price says.

One of the selling points for Price was the commitment by one of his neighbors to designate 40,000 bushel storage capacity for canola.

“We can deliver our canola to our neighbor, rather than transporting it — that was one of the hold-backs to growing rapeseed,” he adds.

“An advantage of canola is that we can plant it 2 weeks or so ahead of wheat in the fall and get it harvested 2-3 weeks earlier than wheat.”

 The South Carolina grower notes that his acreage of canola will likely go up, if it works out as well as it seems to be going this spring.

“Our thinking is that we will have time to harvest the canola and plant cotton behind it. We knew we could plant soybeans behind canola, and that’s what we will plant behind it this year. 

Crop insurance considerations

“The current guidelines on crop insurance,  don’t allow us to plant cotton behind our canola this year, but we feel like we can get the guidelines changed in the future, so we can go to that rotation, Price explains.

“We feel like we can grow 60-70 bushels of canola per acre on our farm. We are using a winter canola variety, Visby, from Rubisco Seeds. This variety seems to be well suited to our soils and climate, and looking at the yields Mike Garland has seen with other growers in the state, it looks like 60-70 bushels per acre should be a reasonable yield to target,” he adds.

In on-farm tests in North Carolina last year, data seem to validate Price’s outlook for 60-70 bushels per acre — maybe more.

The following are yields from canola and rapeseed plots grown by Phillip and Phil McClain near Statesville, N.C.  Rossini is a high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR) variety and the others are winter canola varieties from Rubisco Seeds.

Rossini rapeseed produced 77.95 bushels per acre. Rally produced 86.19 bushels per acre, Flash produced 87.20 bushels per acre, Sitro was the top yielding canola variety at 91.75 bushels per acre, Safran produced 89.22 bushels per acre, and Hornet produced 89.91 bushels per acre.

The rapeseed and canola varieties were planted in the fall of 2010 and harvested on June 21, 2011.

Claire Caldbeck, owner of Philpot, Kentucky-based Rubisco Seeds Company says, “Over the past seven years in the Southeast, farm average yields from winter hybrid canola have steadily increased and typically range from 50 to 70 bushels per acre (1 bushel of canola equals 50 pounds).”

The national average for canola is only 30-35 bushels per acre, she adds.

“Since  2005, Brian Caldbeck, who provides agronomic support for Rubisco Seeds, has developed and refined production programs for winter canola throughout the Southeast that are compatible with the region’s climate, soils, rotations and equipment,” she adds.

Caldbeck says, “Seed supply for the 2012 season will be, as in other years, based on commercial farm results in conjunction with small plot research trials conducted via the National Winter Canola Variety Trial (NWCVT) network and regional university trials. We anticipate continued strong demand for seed in fall 2012.”

Price says he planted his canola on Oct. 18, which is several days earlier than he planted his wheat crop. It allowed us to plant the canola and go straight into planting wheat, he adds.

“I think recommendations are for 15-inch rows in canola, but we weren’t set up to plant it that way. We planted canola in 30-inch rows, which matches up with our 7.5-inch row spacing for wheat.

“Our canola came up, we got a good stand, but we were concerned about it lapping the 30-inch rows to help with grass and weed control. Now (early April), you can’t walk through the canola, so we are very pleased with the way it has grown out,” the South Carolina grower says.

Price used a John Deere 1720 vacuum planter and to adapt to the tiny canola seed, he ordered and added sugar beet discs. That’s the reason he planted Visby variety canola, because it has the biggest seed size.

“I think I was getting 8-9 seed per foot of row and used about two pounds of seed per acre. We bought our seeds through Southern States, who bought it direct from Rubisco Seeds in Kentucky,” Price says.

Canola planted no-till

His canola was planted no-till behind corn. He used a burn down material on his corn, which left it clean when he got ready to plant canola.

The South Carolina grower notes that getting his corn out on time allowed him to get his canola in on time and well ahead of his wheat crop.

Price says he used a little bit more nitrogen and sulfur on canola than he applies to wheat. He applied 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate per acre before planting and came back with 50 gallons of Nitrogen 24S on March 9, to complete the nitrogen and sulfur needs for his canola.

He stresses that the liquid nitrogen formulation had to be applied using straight stream tips to avoid burning the canola.

The split application seemed to work well, Price says.

As for the extra sulfur needed, Caldbeck says on most Southeastern soils canola needs about 20-25 pounds of sulfur during the growing season. However, it’s always best to rely on soil test results to determine exactly how much sulfur is needed.

Part of the learning curve was that after the crop was planted, Price learned canola requires additional calcium. Since many of the soils in the PeeDee area of South Carolina are deficient in calcium, he had to go back this spring with landplaster to provide needed calcium.

“Fortunately Southern States applied the calcium, and they have equipment that allowed them to get it spread on the field without doing much damage to the canola. Next year we’ll address the calcium issue at planting, he says.

Canola is a little like cotton in that it needs about a pound per acre of boron. On canola, he applied boron in three split applications. The first boron was applied on Nov. 21, the second on March 9 and the last application, along with a five-ounce rate of Proline fungicide was applied on March 23.

Hopefully, Price says, he will be able to harvest his canola about June 1.

He will plant soybeans behind the field of canola. Historically, soybean yields behind canola have shown a 10-20 percent yield advantage over beans behind wheat.

AgStrong booked his canola on a per acre basis, based on soybean prices. “That was one of the most attractive features that convinced us to try canola. They seem to be very committed to making canola work from a marketing perspective,” Price says.

rroberson@farmpress.com