Growers FAQs

The Market for Canola

Yield will depend on several factors, primarily available water during the growing season. In the low rainfall, wheat-fallow regions, winter canola can yield from 1500-3000 lbs/acre (30-60 bu/acre). Deficit irrigated winter canola average yield is 4000 lbs/acre (80 bu/acre), while in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon, yields of 4000-5500 lbs/acre (80-110 bu/acre) have been reported. Spring canola may only yield 1000 lbs/acre (20 bu/acre) or less in a dry year, and with higher rainfall, the average can yield up to 3000 lbs/acre (60 bu/acre). Variety trial results from the last several years at MSU, OSU, University of Idaho, and WSU can give a good idea of the yield potential in different regions.

Many farmers are finding that canola is profitable, particularly with local markets taking delivery of canola, and other commodities like wheat and pulses still priced unfavorably. We recommend going through an enterprise budget to compare input costs and yield of other crops you may try versus canola to make a more informed decision. Consult with other growers near you who have grown canola, they are often the best resource! Enterprise budgets developed at WSU can be found in the PNW Canola Publications page under the Resources and Research tab.

There are numerous retail outlets where spring and winter canola seed is sold in the PNW. Check out the Seed Supplier lists under the For Growers tab for the most current options available.

Yes, with local demand higher than ever before. Canola processing facilities in Montana, Oregon, and Washington are all buying (and contracting) canola, and several businesses offer purchase and storage options. See the Cash Bids and Marketing page for details.

Varieties

That will vary from year to year depending on how many new cultivars are released and how many are ‘retired.’  There are conventional varieties as well as herbicide residual tolerant varieties on the market.

In most areas of the PNW, winter canola is planted in late summer to early fall, forms a rosette, overwinters, resumes growth in the spring, and is harvested in July. Spring canola is typically seeded in April and harvested in August. Just like winter wheat, winter canola requires vernalization (must go through a cold period) to produce seed. The yield of winter canola can be twice that of spring canola depending on rainfall and other factors.

That decision will be based on your current crop rotation, rainfall, and which one works best in your area. Winter canola is most common in the lower rainfall, wheat-fallow regions (typically it’s planted on summer fallow) and on farms with deficit irrigation. Spring canola is more suited to areas of intermediate to high rainfall with three-year rotations and annual cropping systems. Reviewing spring and winter canola variety trial results closest to your farm can aide in decision-making, along with talking with neighbors who have raised canola.

A target population of at least five to eight plants/ft2 is recommended for spring canola, and four to five plants/ft2 for winter canola. Until growers gain experience with planting canola, start with the expectation that seed mortality is about 50 percent; e.g. to get four plants/ft2 sow eight seeds/ft2 .  If seed zone water is ideal and the weather outlook is favorable, mortality can be much less. Seed size can vary widely between open-pollinated varieties and hybrids and even from year to year so it is important to factor in thousand seed weight (TSW) when calculating seeding rate. The TSW is printed on every bag of commercial canola seed. Typical seeding rates are three to six lbs/acre. The Production Strategies page has more specifics on plant population.

Growing Canola

Fertilizer costs are slightly higher than for either winter or spring wheat. Nitrogen (N requirements are a little higher and it is important to have adequate sulfur on canola - see question about fertilizer). Fortunately, canola is very efficient at accessing more and deeper nutrients than wheat. Seed cost for spring canola is typically double that of winter canola, and traited canola seed is higher priced than open-pollinated varieties. Herbicide costs will depend on your weed spectrum and resistance traits of the canola, e.g. Roundup Ready.® Canola may require insecticide application. Seed supplier information can be found under the For Growers tab. Information on Fertilizer Management can found on the Production Strategies page of the For Growers tab. 

Fertilizer needs are somewhat similar to wheat, with nitrogen requirements higher than for wheat. A rule of thumb is seven lbs N/100 lbs of expected yield, and keep in mind, that amount includes what is in the soil before seeding. There are several nitrogen-specific publications based on PNW university research available under the Resources and Research tab.

A very important nutrient is sulfur (S) — the recommended ratio of N:S is 4:1. Other nutrients canola requires are phosphorus, potassium, and boron. There are studies underway at Washington State University and the University of Idaho to determine responses to micronutrient applications at different times during the growth season. The single best practice to determine nutrient needs is to soil test regularly. More information on growing canola can be found on our Production Strategy page under For Growers. 

Fertilizer should not be applied with the seed. A separation of at least one inch and preferably two inches is recommended. Take a look at the fertilizer management publications for a lot of great information about canola fertilizer recommendations and strategies for the PNW.

Herbicide history is THE most important information required before growing canola. Canola is very sensitive to Group 2 herbicides, but the good news is that the number of spring and winter varieties available that have residual herbicide resistance continues to grow. For in-season applications, several grass herbicides are labeled for canola. Herbicide-tolerant canola varieties allow the use of specific herbicides in-crop, e.g. glyphosate (Roundup Ready®) or glufosinate (Liberty Link®). A chart of herbicide plant-back restrictions for canola is posted in the Production Strategies page.

That will depend on the variety and yield potential. Winter and spring canola can be produced on as little as 10-12 inches of available water (growing season precipitation + soil water) and will yield higher with more water and adequate fertility. Irrigated canola requires 11-18 inches supplemental irrigation depending on rainfall, soil type, and evaporation rates. More tips for growing canola can be found on our Production Strategies under the For Growers tab. 

If the soil is uniform from the seed to the soil surface, the seed should keep pushing through to emergence. When the soil is soft underneath the crust, the cotyledons will tend to follow the path of least resistance and not push through the crust. A coil packer can be used to break apart crust with minimal disturbance if timed properly.

Canola is a self-pollinated crop. Only hybrid canola seed production has special pollination requirements. Commercial canola fields have no pollination requirements; however, there is ample anecdotal evidence of increased yield when pollinators are present in canola. Canola is an excellent forage source for honey bees and other pollinators. Beekeepers often seek out canola fields to place bees. Growers are advised to work with beekeepers if insecticides are needed. More information on bees and canola can be found on our Health Benefits page under For Consumers. 

With increasing acreage of canola, there are also increasing reports of insect pests, yet most are cyclical, and all are treatable. Scouting regularly is important as populations can increase or decrease quickly, which will impact treatment decisions. The most common insect pests in the PNW are cabbage aphid, cabbage seedpod weevil, flea beetle, and diamondback moth. It is important to know the life cycle of these pests and scout fields at the proper time. Various pests attack canola from the seedling stage to post-flowering. Diseases haven’t gained much of a foothold in the PNW, primarily due to the environment, crop rotation intervals, and seed treatment. Blackleg, Rhizoctonia, and sclerotinia have all been observed in some areas of the PNW. Refer to our PNW Canola Publications and PNW Canola Research pages under Resources and Research for pest and disease information.

Yes, winter canola can be a dual-purpose crop. It is seeded earlier than normal, e.g. June; grazed or harvested for forage/silage in late summer or early fall, allowed to regrow before winter, then harvested for grain the following summer. See our PNW Extension Publications page under Research & Resources to read more about dual-purpose canola.

Planting and Harvesting Canola

No, although growers often modify drills as they find what will improve stand establishment, such as row cleaners, openers, or other fine-tuning. The same combine used for wheat can be used for canola. Again, growers will differ on header preference depending on what works best on their farm. Tips for growing canola can be found on our Production Strategies page under the For Growers tab. 

Yes. A key factor to successful canola stand establishment in any tillage system is good seed-to-soil contact and placing the seed at uniform depth into moist soil. With no-till/direct seeding, it is important to minimize residue on top of the seed row so when the canola emerges the hypocotyl does not elongate and raise the crown height, making the plant more susceptible to freeze events. More tips for growing canola can be found on our Production Strategies page under For Growers 

There is not a ‘best’ drill or planter to use. Canola growers have successfully used a wide range of drills and openers. The ‘right’ choice is what works best with the tillage system and soil on your farm. The objective is uniform, consistent seed placement to achieve an even emerging stand. 

Soil and seedzone water content determine seed depth. Recommendations are to seed one-half inch to one inch deep into firm, moist soil. Many drills move dry soil away from the seed row, which allows for deeper seeding in moist soil. The goal should be to place seed into firm moist soil with no more than one inch of soil cover. Some growers have been successful with deep planting. Openers that disturb the seed row below seed depth are not recommended because drying can be excessive. 'Dusting in' canola is not recommended. Only attempt this on a small scale, experimental basis. More tips for growing canola can be found on our Production Strategy Page.

Winter canola is usually harvested from late June through July; spring canola July through September. Canola is ready to harvest when the majority of pods from the top to the bottom of the plants can be easily hand-threshed and seeds are brown to black in color. More tips for growing canola can be found on our Production Strategy page under For Growers.

Both. The choice of method is often driven by time, weather, and personal preference. Swathing is more common in Montana, in Washington for irrigated winter canola, and in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The ideal time for swathing is at one-third brown seed (the lower third of the pod canopy has brown seed) Another method of harvest used in some areas is pushing, which is similar to swathing but crimps rather than cuts the stalks. Check out our Video Library page for videos on harvesting and storage to learn more.

Canola settings are listed in most combine manuals, and those can be used for a starting point. One of the most important aspects of harvesting canola to be aware of is that harvest speed is slower than with small grains. Adjustments will likely be made depending on moisture, slope, and even variety. Check out this presentation about harvesting strategies by a Washington canola grower. It also includes recommended combine settings for canola vs wheat.