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NMSU's Farmington Ag Science Center participates in national winter canola variety trial

FARMINGTON, N.M. - Canola, a source for heart-healthy cooking oil and bio-diesel fuel, could be another alternative crop for Northern New Mexico farmers. Researchers at New Mexico State University's Farmington Agricultural Science Center are helping with a national study to see which variety fares best in the environment of the Four Corners region.

Dan Smeal, college professor and irrigation expert at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington, looks at the field of winter canola he is using for his water requirement study. A winter canola variety trial is among the research projects being done at the science center. This year's field day tour will begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 23, at the farm located south of Farmington. (NMSU Photo by Margaret West)

NMSU is participating in the National Winter Canola Variety Trial being conducted at 63 locations in 24 states. Michael Stamm, assistant agronomist at Kansas State University, is coordinating the study, which is evaluating the performance of released and experimental varieties to determine where these varieties are best adapted.

The Farmington science center has participated in the trial for two years.

"This year we planted between 40 and 50 varieties. So far it looks like this area is very good for winter canola compared to other areas in the country," said Curtis Owen, the NMSU research assistant responsible for NMSU's portion of the study.

"Winter canola variety performance has really excelled in northwestern New Mexico," Stamm said. "The environment at Farmington, with its plentiful irrigation and high elevation, is ideal for winter canola to show its true yield potential. So far, this has been one of the highest yielding environments of the trial."

In 2009, Farmington's fields had a two-year average yield of 3,969 pounds per acre, or 79 bushels per acre, with the highest yielding variety averaging 106 bushels per acre.

"This was the highest yielding environment out of 29 harvested locations of the 2009 variety trial," Stamm said. "In 2008, the Farmington location, with an average of 76 bushels per acres, was the second highest yielding environment out of 37. The highest yielding variety at this location averaged 95 bushels per acre that year."

The trial compares the various varieties for fall stand establishment, winter survival, bloom date and plant height; percentage of shatter, yield and test weight; and moisture, protein and oil content of the seed.

Winter canola is a good fit for small-grain cropping systems because it and winter wheat require the same equipment.

"Wheat crops following canola have shown a 10 percent or greater increase in yield compared with continuous planting of wheat," Stamm said. "Canola is a broadleaf crop, which allows use of some effective herbicides to control grassy winter annual weeds. Canola and wheat have no major diseases in common, so growing canola breaks weed and disease cycles."

Also, because canola is an oilseed, Stamm says its commodity price is not tied to prices of cereal grains and this spreads economic risks over more than one commodity class.

Winter canola is planted in the late summer. Owen says he plants during the first half of September. The canola plant is similar to winter wheat, which grows until winter temperatures cause it to go dormant. Then as temperatures warm and daylight increases, the plants resume growing in the spring, and the crop is harvested in July or August.

"Canola likes the cooler weather. Presently, commercial canola growers are mostly in Canada and the northern United States, but it appears that our spring climate is conducive for the canola to grow here in the Four Corners region," Owen said.

Owen will give an update about this variety trial and other crop trials that he is managing during the science center's field day on Friday, July 23. The open house will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The field tour, which begins at 9:30 a.m., is free and includes a barbecue lunch at noon.

In addition to the winter canola variety trial, the center is participating in NMSU crop physiologist Sangu Angadi's study of canola as an oilseed crop for biodiesel.

Farmington's irrigation expert, Dan Smeal, is also studying the optimal amount of water needed to raise productive canola.

"We are trying to determine the least amount of water required to get a good yield," said Smeal, NMSU college professor and irrigation expert at the Farmington science center. "We are applying water at different percentages of reference evapotranspiration, which is calculated using weather data such as temperature, humidity, solar radiation and wind speed."

During the field days, visitors will also learn about the ongoing poplar tree project, viticulture research for New Mexico's wine industry, weed research and low-pressure drip irrigation.

NMSU's Agricultural Science Center in Farmington has provided science-based information since 1966 for large and small agricultural producers, industrial operators interested in natural resource management, rural and urban home owners, and interested growers in the Four Corners region.

The science center is located six miles south of Farmington on N.M. 371. Just south of NAPI headquarters, turn right (west) on Navajo Road 3003. Travel west approximately four miles to the green NMSU Experimental Station sign, then turn right on Navajo Road 4063 and travel north three miles to the science center. For more information about the field day, call 505-968-7757 or visit the science center's website at http://farmingtonsc.nmsu.edu.