Jimmy Powers planted his first crop of rapeseed on Oct. 21, 2011 and so far it has been a good crop, he says.

Good enough that it will likely become a staple of his cropping rotation in future years.

“If we harvest 50 bushels per acre from our rapeseed, moneywise, it should work out comparable to our wheat crop,” Powers says. His wheat crop would have been better, but got some damage from a late spring freeze. The rapeseed, he says, was not damaged by the freeze.

“The biggest difference between wheat and rapeseed, is the price of seed. Rapeseed is more expensive, but the crop is more valuable, so it all works out.

“We didn’t do anything much different with the rapeseed than we do with our wheat crop. We did apply a little more nitrogen. I think the crop needs more sulfur than wheat, but on our sandy soils we have to apply sulfur anyway,” Powers says.

“We used a liquid nitrogen fertilizer that we applied over-the-top just like we do wheat. And, we used both a S-24 nitrogen formulation and a dry formulation of 6-12-38,” he adds.

The biggest problem, he says, was getting the seeding rate right. Maybe it was beginners luck, Powers notes, but the dense, heavily seeded rapeseed on his North Carolina farm looked in early May to be a bumper crop.

“Next year, we will use a metered planter. We think it will give us better seed depth control and make planting a little less stressful,” he says. Despite the planting time trauma, Powers agrees the end product turned out well.

In an area where glyphosate resistant pigweed is a constant threat, Powers says the rapeseed may be very important. “We burned down the previous crop with gramoxone and applied Treflan in the fall, then planted the rapeseed. It grew out so fast and shaded out the rows well enough that we had virtually no weed or grass problems, he notes.

Powers says he was surprised at how quickly the new crop produced a canopy and completely shaded out other unwanted plants, including pigweed. “There just wasn’t any light that penetrated the canopy, so there was not much chance of a weed or any other plant growing under there,” he adds.

He says the rapeseed plants canopied the rows even when the plants were small. “Once the crop was up and growing in the fall, there wasn’t much else we needed to do until spring, when it started growing again.”

Disease control

In March, he sprayed the rapeseed with a combination of Quadris and Karate. He found a small area of sclerotinia in one of his rapeseed fields, and knowing how devastating the disease can be on peanuts he sprayed the fungicide-insecticide combination.

“We were spraying fungicides on wheat at that time anyway, so it was easy enough to move directly into the rapeseed field,” he says.

After the fact, he learned that sclerotinia that infects rapeseed is different from the type that can cause devastating yield losses in peanuts.

The bright yellow flowers that covered the rapeseed plants drew a lot of attention from people who drove past the field. “We got all kinds of questions about the flowers we were growing,” Powers laughs. The number of bees the rapeseed field attracted was another topic of interest for the North Carolina grower. “There were literally thousands of bees working the rapeseed flowers. I guess we were helping the guys with beehives, too,” he says.

The North Carolina grower is growing the rapeseed as part of a contract with Technology Crops International. The company is headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C. They have made a concerted effort over the past three years to develop an interest among North Carolina farmers to grow rapeseed.

The push to increase rapeseed production in the Carolinas comes at the same time companies like Georgia-based AgStrong are pushing for increased canola acreage. Neither canola nor rapeseed has been grown extensively in the Carolinas, and there is considerable confusion as to how they are different.

Canola is rapeseed that includes a group of varieties with different production capabilities. Rapeseed contains erucic acid, which makes its oil less desirable for use in the food industry.

A group of Canadian plant breeders developed a low erucic acid variety of rapeseed and identified it with the acronym canola, which stands for Canadian oil low acid.

Used as industrial oil

The rapeseed being grown by Jimmy Powers and a number of other North Carolina growers is being used for industrial oils, which prefer high erucic acid content. The common acronym for these varieties of rapeseed is HEAR for High Erucic Acid Rapeseed.

Primary uses for HEAR crops include: plastic bags coated with the oil to reduce friction, caps to soft drinks and other drink products, and as an anti-slippage agent in peanut butter.

Jeff Riddle, who is a contract administrator for Technology Crops International, says rapeseed is high demand worldwide. In the U.S. demand exceeds domestic supply.

In North Carolina, Riddles says rapeseed is an ideal companion crop with wheat. Ideal planting dates range from mid-September in the western part of the state to mid-October in eastern parts of North Carolina.

Planting dates allow growers to go directly from wheat planting to rapeseed. Or, they can put rapeseed in a week or two earlier than wheat, which will give them more flexibility in harvesting their winter crops the next spring.

Rapeseed also fits in well with most spring-planted crops. It is an ideal double-crop planted with soybeans.

Typically, a grower can get rapeseed harvested and soybeans planted a couple of weeks earlier than soybeans following wheat. The early planting dates are likely a primary reason for higher soybean yields behind rapeseed, than behind wheat.

“Most of our growers plant rapeseed behind corn and before soybeans. We have a few growers who are growing it behind cotton, and with crops being planted a few days earlier this year, that may be another good option,” Riddle says.

Powers says his relationship with Technology Crops International has been good so far. “We attended a meeting last year, and my brother and I liked the emphasis the company put on working with growers. They have been here with us as we’ve gone through this first year of planting and growing rapeseed,” he adds.

Powers says he is planning to plant sunflowers on a contract with Technology Crops International. Riddle says his company did field trial work on high oleic acid sunflowers last year in the western part of North Carolina.

“We are going to offer limited contracts in the western part of the state this planting season. And, we will be working with growers, like Jimmy Powers, in the eastern part of the state to grow high oleic sunflowers in commercial trials,” Riddle notes.

He says, “I think sunflowers will grow on a wide variety of soil types, and pretty wide variety of pHs. But, the bigger concern here in North Carolina is the high heat and the high humidity.”

Powers, who farms about 3,500 acres near St. Paul, N.C., says labor is a constant challenge and these new crops offer some options that don’t require hiring more people. He farms with his brother and says any crops or any new technology that helps reduce labor requirements on the farm are a big asset.

rroberson@farmpress.com