Higher price, local processing options make canola's future bright

Tri-City HeraldJanuary 21, 2014 

November 18, 2013 - The canola plant grows yellow flowers and then forms a pod that lengthens up to 6 inches. The pod holds the seeds, which are harvested with a combine. The seeds, each only a little larger than a dull pencil point, are crushed for oil and meal.


— The time is right for canola to catch on.

That’s what Jack Brown, a University of Idaho oilseed breeder and geneticist, told farmers, researchers and industry experts on Tuesday. He said the canola industry has been teetering on the edge for more than 30 years.

Brown explained that researchers have expected to see canola acreage grow in the Northwest for about 37 years.

He spoke during the 2014 Washington State University Oilseed and Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association Direct Seed Cropping Systems Conference at Kennewick’s Three Rivers Convention Center.

It’s been difficult to get the crop to catch on because of a lack of a crushing industry and because growing wheat is so easy, he said. Canola oil can be used in food-grade oil and biodiesel. Canola meal also can be used as feed for cows.

While canola still remains harder to grow, Brown said its competitiveness with wheat has improved as canola prices have grown.

Growing spring canola and winter wheat has a higher return to the farmer than growing winter wheat on top of spring wheat or winter wheat and peas, Brown said.

And in the last 22 years, Brown said they’ve been successful in increasing the yield of winter canola by 1,000 pounds per acre, or 33 percent, and spring canola by 600 pounds an acre. Much of that is from better genetics, and the rest is from growing the crop better, he said.

Planting winter canola in May or June allows farmers to get two crops, silage and the seeds, Brown said. The silage, or “canolage,” has low fiber and high protein, giving it a good feed value for cows.

And the crushing industry void appears to be filled with the opening of Pacific Coast Canola’s new Warden food-grade canola oil processing plant, Brown said.

At full capacity, the plant can process 1,100 metric tons of canola seed a day. It can create about 40 million gallons of canola oil and 220,000 metric tons of canola meal in a year. The company opened at the end of 2012 and spent last year gearing up to full production.

Brown said Northwest farmers will need to grow 350,000 to 500,000 acres of canola, or the Warden crush plant will go out of business or have to continue to get train loads of seed from Canada.

“The future is bright, perhaps it is getting brighter by the day,” he said.

And acreage has grown in recent years. Washington farmers harvested a canola crop this fall that more than doubled to 36,000 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s Washington’s most common oilseed crop, grown in Adams, Grant, Douglas, Lincoln and Spokane counties.

The primary reason to grow canola is the benefits it has in improving soil health, reducing erosion and cutting down on the amount of pesticides need, Brown said.

More than 500 people attended the conference and trade show, which continues today.

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-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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