Winter Canola as a Cover Crop and Renewable Energy Source

2008 Annual Report for FNC07-661

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $11,898.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Steve Tennes
The Country Mill

Winter Canola as a Cover Crop and Renewable Energy Source


This project has progressed successfully. The project leader located and visited a farm in Michigan that was growing winter canola. He visited it during the harvest of winter carnival. Observances from that farm’s canola plots were integrated into this project. In September of 2009, eight acres of pumpkins were harvested. On September 24th, 2009, a disc and cull packer were used on these eight acres to perform a minimum amount of tillage in one pass. On September 25th, these eight acres were planted with winter canola using a Great Plaines Drill that was rented from our local conservation office. Of these eight acres, seven were planted with 15” rows at five pounds of seed per acre (setting #15). This plot will be referred to as Plot A. The other one-acre (of the eight that was tilled) was planted with 7.5” row spacing at five pounds of seed per acre (setting #5). Note the planting density in the 7.5” rows was half that of the 15” rows. This plot will be referred to as Plot B.

One additional acre of pumpkins was left unharvested until October. With the pumpkins in the field, canola was broadcasted on this one-acre plot at a rate of ten pounds per acre. This plot will be referred to as Plot C. Employees and customers visiting the farm market in October harvested the pumpkins in Plot C. No fertilizer or pesticides were used in this project, thus far.

On November 12th 2009, a site visit was conducted by Steve Tennes, Project Leader, Dr. George Silva, MSU Extension, and Dr. Russ Freed, a canola expert from Michigan State University. The attached photos show the canola field on that day. Dr. Freed commented that the germination in all three plots looked excellent. Despite no effort being made to initiate soil to seed contact, Plot C had similar germination rates as Plots A & B. The main difference was that Plot C plants were at different stages of growth. Dr. Freed noted that having canola at different growth stages may help avoid having a total winter kill. This is because canola’s survival varies depending on its growth stage. Too advance and too young is more likely to die from winter kill. The current density of planting is higher than is needed, but some degree of winter kill is almost certain. The outcome will be observed in April of 2009.

With a good crop of canola in the ground, the oil seed press was purchased on November 19th, 2008 with assistance from grant funding. We are currently in the process of mounting and preparing the press for operation.

With the crop in ground this winter, many of the lessons have yet to be learned. The fact that Plot C germinated as well as it did was contrary to information observed at the other farm in July of 2008. At this other Michigan farm (not in the project), winter canola was planted after winter wheat harvest with no herbicides. This created a great deal of competition from the volunteer winter wheat which out-competed the canola in many parts. It has been learned that proper crop rotation is critical to establishing winter canola. Furthermore, wet areas of fields should be avoid as winter kill can reach 100% if the plants are underwater during an early winter thaw as was observed at the other Michigan farm. Harvesting techniques were also observed. These techniques will be discussed in the next project report as we are still learning the best method.

The canola field will be reassessed in March to determine if fertilizer is necessary. The canola field is expected to be harvested during the first week of July. It will then be dried to an acceptable moisture level. The canola will then be pressed and cold filtered. The canola oil will then be utilized in the designated farm tractor.

At this point in the project, the project is waiting to gather more results before sharing them with area farmers. Discover Canola, a statewide canola field day, however, is already scheduled for Friday, November 6th 2009 at the project farm. MSU Extension and Michigan Farm Bureau will publicize the event to Michigan farmers, state officials, and MSU researchers. The day will be an educational event demonstrating the canola press, use of canola oil, and the newly planted canola fields (next year’s field, not under this project). Other outreach efforts may also be scheduled as opportunities arise.