Canola emerging as major state crop

Washington's acreage, production value increased in recent years

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WARDEN — Canola could prove itself to be a major state commodity over time, as recent reports show both the crop’s planting acreage and production value increased in the past couple of years. Canola moved up one spot, from 40 in 2011 to 39 in 2012, on the list of Washington’s Top 40 Agricultural Commodities recently released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

While canola only moved up one spot on the list, the crop’s change in farm gate value (the price of the product available at the farm, not including transport or delivery charges) from 2011 to 2012 could be seen as more significant. Canola had a production value of $4.3 million in 2011, but a value of nearly $7.2 million in 2012.

That represents a 64.2 percent change, according to NASS.

The only other commodities on the Top 40 list that had a higher percentage change than canola between the two years were dry edible beans and barley.

Dry edible beans, ranked 21 in 2011 and 16 in 2012, had a 79.2 percent change in production value between 2011 and 2012. Barley, ranked 24 in 2011 and 22 in 2012, had a 68.8 percent change in value.

And according to Washington State University Extension figures, planting acreage of the crop has shown an increase as well. In 2011, about 66,000 acres of canola was planted in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

About 11,000 acres that year was planted in Washington.

In 2012, 111,000 acres of canola was planted across the four states. Washington’s share that year was about 15,000 acres.

This year, it is estimated that about 140,000 acres was seeded in the Northwest, with 30,000 of those acres located in Washington.

Canola already represents a large growth opportunity for U.S. growers in general, according to Pacific Coast Canola officials. However, the presence of the company’s oilseed processing plant in Warden means that opportunity could be even greater for Northwest farmers.

The plant is the only commercial-scale seed-crushing operation west of the Rocky Mountains and the only one of two canola processing plants in North America that uses expeller-press technology.

Pacific Coast Canola completed its first sale and shipment of canola oil out of the facility in January. In September, the plant crushed more than 20,000 metric tons of canola seed, Chief Operating Officer Matt Upmeyer said recently.

Last week, the first 110-car unit train of canola seed arrived at the facility, according to the Columbia Basin Railroad. The unit train traveled about 1,350 miles from the Northern Plains region to Warden.

The unit train gives the plant enough seed to operate for about eight days, Upmeyer said.

He said the plant is expected to reach full production capacity by the end of this year.

At full capacity, the plant will be able to crush about 1,100 metric tons of canola seed each day. Annually, the plant will be able to produce about 40 million gallons of refined, bleached and deodorized canola oil and about 220 metric tons of canola meal.

To meet those numbers, Pacific Coast Canola will need to purchase about 380,000 metric tons of canola seed from farmers each year. Upmeyer said the company wants to buy as much of that seed from local farmers as possible.

“Our goal in the next several years is to be 100 percent local sourced,” he said.

Upmeyer said the company will spend around $1 billion buying canola over the next four to five years. The company is currently working to get the word out to area farmers about the agronomic benefits of growing both GMO and non-GMO canola, he said.

The plant was designed to segregate and process both types of seed. PCC also recently received Non-GMO Project Verification for non-GMO products coming out of the pant.

Upmeyer said farmers should consider adding canola to their crop rotation cycle.

“We would love to see farmers have one-third of their land at all times in canola production,” he said.

Ritzville area farmer Curtis Hennings said adding canola to his crop rotation helped him save about $15 an acre on chemical weed control costs. Subsequent wheat crops also yield at least 20 percent better after canola, when compared to wheat after wheat plantings, he said.