April 18, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

In the late 1980s canola, a fall planted grain, was being grown on a number of acres in west and south Kentucky but production problems had farmers backing away from the crop.

Today, some canola is again being raised in the state and one variety is being tested at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton.

"In the late 1980s canola looked to offer promise for Kentucky farmers," said Lloyd Murdock, UK Extension agronomist. "It was a crop that yielded well – 50 bushels most years – and we have gotten as high as 100 per acre but that was rare. It was a break even between wheat and canola at that time.

"We worked out a lot of the practical aspects of production and acreage jumped to 20,000 but a sudden freeze resulted in immense loss. Winter hardiness proved to be a real problem and killed it as a potential crop in many farmers minds," he said.

There weren't any varieties at the time well suited for Kentucky's environment. Since then, varieties developed in Kansas have improved winter hardiness. Having a variety that works in Kentucky's environment has gotten some farmers interested in taking another look at the crop.

Another factor that has again piqued interest in the crop are federal loan deficiency payments on canola which may give it an economic edge over wheat.

Steve Riggins, UK grain marketing specialist, said the key to the whole thing is the oilseed loan rate which is about $4.24 compared to $2.58 for wheat. Pending federal farm legislation also gives the edge to oilseeds.

Canola acreage has increased in some areas of the country and Kentucky could be poised to increase its acreage.

Because of some renewed interest, a winter hardy variety from Kansas is being grown this year on the UKREC.

"We are taking a look to see if we feel like it is still adaptable to Kentucky and if these new varieties will make it more of a possibility," Murdock said.

Some farmers in Logan and Simpson County are growing it for a second year and seeing good winter hardiness and more money from the crop compared to wheat, Murdock said. So, it may be an opportunity for some farmers who have the capability for separate storage.

Even if consistent production is possible, markets are still a problem. Canola still has to be shipped to Windsor, Ontario resulting in higher transportation costs. Farmers that are growing it in the state are using a grain elevator in southern Kentucky that stores it, then ships rail cars of it on to Canada.

"I anticipate we could see more acres if we can produce it consistently as long as government payments are in place to compensate for higher shipping costs," Murdock said.

With production costs and yields about the same as wheat, a key component to a resurgence in canola production is a variety with proven winter hardiness, Riggins said. If that can be proven to work, then more markets could open up.

Canola could still prove to be a good fit in Kentucky.

"It gives you good rotation; you are not tied in to wheat after wheat," Murdock said. "Canola is planted a little earlier than wheat in the fall and needs a longer time to get established. It is harvested in the spring in plenty of time for double cropping."


Lloyd Murdock, 270-365-7541