Canola enjoys 'quite good' harvest

Jonathan Knutson
Forum News Service

Though their crop season didn’t start out well, Upper Midwest canola growers ended up with a pretty nice year after all.

“The crop turned out quite good,” especially considering major mid-summer moisture concerns, said Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Association in Bismarck, N.D.

About 83% of the nation’s canola acreage is in North Dakota, with about half of the rest in Montana. Canola also is grown in northwest Minnesota. The crop originally was developed in Canada, and canola also generally fares well in the climate of the northern Upper Midwest.

North Dakota canola growers averaged 1,770 pounds per acre this fall, with some fields going over a ton per acre, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates released in mid-October, but the canola industry thinks the final number — to be released this winter — will be a little higher, Coleman said.

USDA pegged the 2019 North Dakota average canola yield at 1,800 pounds per acre.

Whatever the 2020 final average yield, it will reflect widespread rain in late June that came just in time to save canola fields that were suffering badly from inadequate moisture. Without the mid-summer rain, the state’s average yield would have been much lower. Then, after the much-needed rains, generally dry weather this fall allowed harvest to proceed smoothly in most key canola-growing areas, Coleman said.

Nationally, canola averaged 1,759 pounds per acre, dipping from 1,781 pounds per acre a year ago, according to USDA.

On the down side, North Dakota farmers planted fewer canola acres this spring, reflecting poor canola prices tied in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Because Americans are eating out less this year, restaurants used less canola oil, cutting into prices.

USDA estimates North Dakota canola acreage at 1.54 million, down from 1.7 million last year, though Coleman said his industry thinks 2020 acreage in the state probably is closer to 1.48 million to 1.485 million acres.

But farmers who planted canola have benefitted from surging canola prices recently. Concerns about the U.S. soybean crop have pushed up canola prices, too, with canola prices reaching two-year highs, Coleman said.

Marketing advisers generally have recommended selling a good chunk of the 2020 crop to take advantage of the higher prices, and many area canola farmers have done so, Coleman said.

Also helping U.S. canola prices: A Canadian-Chinese trade dispute, which caused less Canadian canola to go to China and pushed up up world canola stockpiles, seems to be mostly resolved, Coleman said.

Canada dominates world production of canola, a contraction of “Canadian oil, low acid,” or can-o-la.

Canola seeds, similar in size to poppy seeds, are crushed to produce oil and meal. Canola oil, used for cooking and frying, appeals to health-conscious consumers. Canola meal generally is fed to livestock, with most of North Dakota canola meal going to dairy cattle.

The crop, introduced in Canada in 1974, began catching on in North Dakota in the 1980s, in part because the crop disease scab was hammering durum, a popular crop at the time in northern North Dakota. In 1990, farmers in the state planted 160,000 acres of canola — a figure that rose to 1.35 million acres in 2010 and has been on the upswing overall since then, despite fluctuations from year to year.

North Dakota dominates U.S. production of canola.