Canola breeding program searches for growable winter varieties

Michael Stamm, canola breeder, checks on winter canola plants in a vernalization chamber. The plants will be transplanted in a greenhouse after they undergo an eight-week cold temperature treatment to induce flowering. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Michael Stamm, associate agronomist and canola breeder, is seeking better winter hardiness for canola being grown in Kansas. It’s all through the canola breeding program.

The main objectives of the program is to advance winter canola production in Kansas and throughout the rest of the southern Great Plains.

Stamm also coordinates the National Winter Canola Variety Trial. Kansas State became involved in 1993 once the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave a grant to the program. Stamm has worked on the program for 14 years.

Winter canola is an alternative crop planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. In a video by K-State Research and Extension, Stamm said the NWCVT trials test elite, commercial and experimental varieties for the southern Great Plains and locations across the U.S.

Seed companies enter their varieties to see where they can grown and withstand the winter season. With canola, Stamm aims not only to have varieties with better winter hardiness, but also improved yield, oil and disease resistance.

“You really have to have optimism with your work,” Stamm said. “But I believe that canola is a good fit and has a bright future for Kansas farmers.”

To make canola production viable in Kansas, there has to be varieties to withstand winter. Stamm uses traditional breeding methods, primarily selection, to create populations that can survive Kansas winters. Canola is encouraged to be grown in rotation with wheat, but some herbicides, including sulfonylurea, a herbicide and weed killer commonly used with wheat, can carry over and inhibit canola growth.

An additional objective, Stamm said, is to develop varieties of canola that are resistant to the sulfonylurea herbicide to make rotation with wheat a little easier. With the rotation of canola introduced to fields, Stamm said farmers see a 15 to 40 percent increase in yield of other crops.

Stamm said he hopes to garner more interest in canola since all crop commodities are depressed, which makes canola not as attractive to growers. The record for canola in Kansas was 60,000 acres two years ago, but has since decreased.

John Holman, cropping system agronomist and associate professor in Research and Extension, said canola grows mostly in the western part of the state.

“Canola fits nicely because it doesn’t need a lot of water in drylands,” Holman said.

Holman said producers are looking at any option like cotton, hemp and canola as the alternative crops to make up for lower prices on other crops like wheat and corn. Canola is recommended to be grown from fall to spring months so there isn’t yield loss.

Three varieties released by K-State are Riley, Wichita and Surefire Canola. Such varieties show more winter hardiness.