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MSU researcher explores winter canola planting in Montana

Winter canola

Clint Beiermann (left) is currently researching winter canola to see how it can be adapted for successful planting in the Flathead region and beyond.

Montana growers are all too familiar with spring canola. In fact, Montana was the second-largest producer of canola in 2020 – falling in line behind powerhouse North Dakota. With spring canola thriving in the state, producers and researchers have had their interest perked by an uncommon variety of this common crop: winter canola.

Winter canola is commonly planted in early fall, overwinters, blooms in late spring and is ready for harvest in mid-summer. Due to a variety of factors, winter canola can commonly out-yield spring canola by 20-30 percent, according to the U.S. Canola Association.

Currently, winter canola production is mostly concentrated in the Southern Great Plains, but with more and more acres popping up in the Pacific Northwest, growers and researchers in Montana started to wonder if the crop could be successful in the Big Sky State. But, there are some key factors that needed to be addressed first.

“The main issue in most regions with the adoption of winter canola is getting it to survive through the winter. I figured that was the perfect place for the research center to step in and start screening some of the newer varieties,” stated Clint Beiermann, assistant professor of agronomy at the Northwestern Ag Research Center (NWARC) in Kalispell, Mont. 

Beiermann focused in and decided he wanted to look at how different varieties and planting dates may effect overwintering survivability of winter canola. In the early fall of 2020, he planted winter canola in Creston, Mont., on three different dates: Aug. 15, Sept. 1 and Sept. 15.

“Going off of one year of data, I didn’t see variety having an effect on winter survival. The factor that really influenced winter survival was the planting date. The earlier-planted winter canola survived much better,” he explained.

While it is appearing that planting winter canola earlier is a safer bet, that presents a different challenge, Beiermann noted.

“The other issue with adopting winter canola into a cropping system is that the fall planting date is so early that it is hard to fit it into rotation,” he said.

Beiermann sees this challenge as just another piece of the puzzle. Winter canola, he believes, really does have a ton of potential in Montana. It is just a matter of understanding it better and perfecting production practices to ensure the crop is grown successfully.

“Montana really is placed right in the heart of canola production country. Anything we can gain to increase winter canola production is just going to position the state to compete with other large canola producing states like North Dakota,” he added.

To that note, Beiermann and four other MSU faculty got a grant funding research of winter canola at four different sites across Montana. The project will begin with planting in the fall of 2022 and will look not only at planting dates but also fertilizer timing application.

“We are really going to learn a lot from the multi-site study. Just seeing how our survival varies and how different the planting dates are at the locations,” he said.

Beiermann is looking forward to studying winter canola more so he can provide producers with the tools and knowledge they need to make the crop successful.

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