Sometimes it takes a long time to get the bad taste out of your mouth after a bad experience. Some farmers still remember the fiasco they encountered when trying to grow canola in Indiana in the mid to late 1980s. So they likely aren't the ones growing it today in Indiana. However, Chuck Mansfield, a Purdue University agronomist, says some farmers are growing it, and working it into their system almost as a specialty crop. Grown in the proper locations using modern varieties and techniques, he believes canola can succeed today as being a profitable crop for some producers.
The earlier drive toward bringing canola to the Midwest was driven primarily by one or more seed producers, who were trying to profit by selling seed. Unfortunately, the varieties sold weren't well adapted for many areas, and farmers knew very little bout management of the crop. The effort fizzled when two cold winters in a row took out much of the canola that was planted in Indiana at that time.
Mansfield says there are several reasons why canola could become a successful niche market crop in Indiana this time. Apparently, there are already progressive farmers growing it successfully in southwest Indiana. It starts with having the right varieties, he says. The varieties of winter canola available today are much harder than the ones that seedsmen sold to farmers in the 1980s. Indiana farmers grow winter canola, planted in the fall. In Canada, where most canola is currently grown, they plant spring canola. Somewhere in between is a transition zone where it can be hard to grow either one.
"The other big difference today is that farmers understand how to manage the crop," Mansfield says. The first time around, the people hawking the seed told farmers to treat it like wheat, and fertilizer and handle it accordingly. That just won't work when you're trying to produce top canola yields, the adds.
"This is a crop that doesn't do well at any hint of drainage problems," he says. "If you plant it on somewhat poorly drained soils, it's a recipe for disaster, even today." That's what happened to farmers in various parts of Indiana who tried to grow it the first time"
It also needs more nutrition that was previously recommended, including more nitrogen," he says. "Then you need to pay attention to micronutrients, especially boron and sulfur."Where it really fits is for produces with sandy loam soils who grow vegetable crops in the summer. The canola needs to be planted by mid-September here. The first time around, the promoters said ti could be planted in early October like wheat, but that's just too late to get a stand big enough to survive winters."