30 years planting canola makes farmer region’s oilseed guru
Wade Troutman is no newcomer to the canola crop, which has caught the attention of many of his Washington neighbors. “I’ve been producing this stuff for 30 years,” he says, or “forever,” as he also puts it.
“I started farming on a shoestring when I was young and dumb and ambitious,” he says. “I picked up leases on ground nobody wanted to farm because it was infested with [feral] rye. I wanted something that would grow there, so I tried canola.”
It was a risky venture because the oilseed had no crop insurance to fall back on in the earlier years.
Controlling rye by itself is worth growing the crop, he says. “I was spending $10,000 a year rogueing up weeds before I planted canola.”
The Troutman farm in the Chalk Hills region has become a focal point of the new wave of canola producers who look to Troutman as a kind of oilseed guru.
As for spring grain crops, “we never got everything cleaned up [regarding weeds], and economically it was a disaster,” he adds.
Hearing that canola was being promoted by some buyers, “it turned out to be the one thing that worked,” he says, “because it was a winter crop.
“Once federal crop supports became available for canola, I was able to go 50-50 canola and wheat,” he recalls. Today, he grows 600 acres of each crop.
Troutman sells to Central Washington Grain Growers, which markets to Pacific Coast Canola in Warden. The new PCC plant is a “definite plus” for growers in Washington, he says. “We had to ship some seed all the way to Alberta, Canada, before the new Warden facility went in. Now, we’re localized.”
Shipping locally saves him an estimated $30 to $40 an acre, he says. “That adds up when you’ve got hundreds of oilseed acres.”
Canola has done the job against rye in his fields, says Troutman, and even while volunteer oilseed plants do sprout in his wheat — which is much freer of rye infestations — this isn’t a problem, he says.
“The canola just thrashes out of the wheat, so there’s no contamination,” he explains.
WSU supports canola
Washington State University, like many institutions in the Pacific Northwest, is looking at ways to improve the canola outlook for the region and encourage growers to plant the wheat rotation.
Canola tours were easy to find this spring in Oregon and Washington as new varieties were displayed for review in the field.
The mix of growers producing canola in central Washington is revealing a rich diversity in how to farm the crop. While new canola producer Denver Black (see story on previous page) swears by his coulter to get what he calls “a substantial difference in stand establishment,” Troutman says he is doing just fine without using the tool.
Moisture differences are also making a difference in growers’ success with canola. “I was surprised at the agronomics,” says Troutman. “There’s 15% to 20% more moisture in the soil in canola stubble over what we found in wheat stubble.”
Others report less of a difference in moisture, but overall most growers report a notable improvement in canola fields.
Producers also see differences in pests, such as the seedpod weevil, which could be related to temperature variations in a growing area. While those volunteer canola plants in the wheat present no problem for Troutman’s grain contamination, “they do provide a refuge for the weevil,” he says.
Farming in what many consider un-farmable soils, Troutman may be a somewhat of an anomaly. “I like matching wits with Mother Nature,” he quips. “Not everything is scientific in farming in this hard country where we try, and we make mistakes.
“A lot of us up here are morons trying to gamble against Mother Nature.”
This article published in the July, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
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