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NMSU’s Clovis Science Center explores winter canola as alternative crop

As farmers in Eastern New Mexico are preparing to plant winter crops, a New Mexico State University research project is pointing out dual-purpose canola as an excellent choice.

Two men in canola field
New Mexico State University scientists study canola as a winter crop at the university’s Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. (Submitted photo)

“Winter canola has good potential in the region,” said Sangu Angadi, a crop stress physiologist at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. “It is well-adapted, requires less water and produces multiple products that are in demand locally.”

Canola is very well-suited to New Mexico and can tolerate our cold temperatures very well, said Angadi, who is leading study of the crop at Clovis, along with Sultan Begna, agricultural research scientist. Research on canola also is being done at the university’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington under the direction of Agronomy Professor Michael “Mick” O’Neill and Curtis Owen, agricultural research assistant.

The NMSU research also has been done in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Winter Canola Variety Trial. Funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Alternative Crops program, the research is being conducted to develop winter canola into an economically and agronomically viable alternative crop for the region.

Angadi said a benefit of growing winter canola is that researchers are not seeing winter kill, unless it is planted too late. Canola also has a lower water requirement than some traditional crops.

Canola also helps address the lack, otherwise, of a broad leaf crop in the rotation. With winter wheat as the only winter crop typically planted, canola can be rotated with winter wheat quite well. Canola also protects soil from spring wind storms, and as a rotational crop with wheat, canola can actually increase wheat yields.

“It is often said that winter canola in the rotation makes a wheat farmer a better wheat farmer,” Angadi said.

If weeds, especially grass weeds, are a problem for a wheat farmer, then canola can help control that problem, Angadi said. All herbicide technologies, such as Roundup Ready, Liberty Link and Clearfield, are available in canola.

Canola produces high quality edible oil and demand for it is steadily increasing as people seek a more healthy diet, Angadi said. That increased demand will likely outpace U.S. growers’ ability to produce canola.

Canola produces a high-quality forage for livestock and canola meal (the material that is left over after the seed is crushed for oil) is the main source of protein for dairy cattle.

Angadi also pointed out that the opening of a new crushing plant in Lubbock, Texas, by ADM, a leading agricultural processing company, brings market opportunity for canola producers in the region.

These and other topics were discussed at a special field day last spring at the Clovis Science Center, and this fall will be growers’ first opportunity to put what they learned at the field day into practice.

Among the research findings the NMSU scientists have gathered:

– The right planting date for winter canola is middle of September. Delayed planting will hurt winter survival.

– With 12 inches of irrigation water farmers can produce a profitable canola crop under New Mexico conditions.

– Winter canola can extract water from 4- to 5-feet deep and is always more conservative in utilizing soil moisture when compared to winter wheat.

– Very well-adapted winter canola cultivars have been identified for the region. Earlier maturing cultivars are more susceptible to late spring freezes.

One final benefit. Angadi pointed out that winter canola tolerated a severe hail storm that hit the Clovis area on June 7, much better than most other crops and still produced slightly more than 50 percent of the average annual yield. In contrast, winter wheat could not be harvested due to the severe damage.