Canola, long a rotation crop on the Palouse, is exploding in profitability and acreage, researchers say.
Acreage has increased threefold in the past two years, says Jack Brown, professor in the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He predicts acreage will double this because of increased demand, higher prices and improved research.
"Now, growers can actually make more money growing canola than they can growing winter wheat," Brown says. Wheat has been a staple of Palouse farmers in Idaho and Washington for more than a century.
The demand for canola will continue to grow with new crushing operations, he says
One plant, operated by Pacific Coast Canola in Warden, Wash., eventually will have the capacity to produce 300 million pounds of canola oil each year. "That's going to suck up a lot of canola," Brown says. "We're really going to have to do our best to make sure we can produce enough."
Another new plant in Odessa, Wash., will use up to 60,000 acres of canola annually to make 8 million gallons of biodiesel each year.
"To service just these two possible outlets, we're going to have to increase our productivity quite markedly, or these businesses are not going to be successful," Brown says.
Researchers gathered in Moscow recently for an annual research review of the oilseed crop. Experts from Montana State University, Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho presented federally funded projects from the past three years that have helped farmers increase their acreage in the Pacific Northwest.
The U.S. has experienced significant canola acreage growth in recent years. From 2011 to 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a 13,500-acre increase of canola harvested in Idaho alone. Montana's harvest expanded 11,500 acres, Washington's grew 6,300 acres, and Oregon's 800 acres.
"It's a real exciting time to be in canola research in the Pacific Northwest," Brown says. "For years and years we've been talking about increasing acreage base and increasing production."
The annual program began 21 years ago when the U of I put a proposal together for federal canola research funding. The National Canola Association splits the funding into six regions. The Midwest region receives the most funding because it has the highest acreage base. The Pacific Northwest receives the second most because of the amount of research done here. The Pacific Northwest received $130,162 for research projects in the 2012 fiscal year.
"The people in the national program love us, because they get more return per dollar for research every year," Brown says.
It was not until recently that the region's farmers began to realize canola's potential. Jim Davis, a research support specialist in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, says there is a lot of interest among farmers, especially in dryland areas. Some are now growing it for the first time.
"Places where they don't have irrigation, there's not a lot of options for crops," Davis says. "Crop rotations are biologically and economically narrow, so growers are interested in increasing the diversity on their farms. Canola is a crop that fits pretty well into our wheat rotations."
The price a farmer receives for canola has more than doubled in the past 10 years, he says.
Estelle Gwinn: (208) 882-5561, ext. email@example.com