Published on 01/15/96

Canola Check Program Making Its Mark

It's not easy to make a profit farming. Growers must turn to crop specialists and other sources for volumes of information to guide their decision-making.

It's no wonder many farmers often choose not to grow a new crop when little is known about producing it.

"Most farmers are reluctant, even resistant, to grow a new crop like canola due to a lack of experience," said Randy Hudson, an entomologist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"We designed a new program," Hudson said, "to provide farm-condition information that supports canola as a viable alternative cash crop in Georgia."

The Canola Check Program being introduced to new canola growers is similar to a program from Australia.

"If farmers don't have access to information from other farmers about growing a new crop, they tend to shy away from it," Hudson said.

"Information from test plots gives us a good idea of what will happen in real life," he said. But most farmers prefer to know how a crop grows under conditions like those in their own fields.

Steve Meeks, a student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, is working for the Extension Service during the 1995-1996 program.

He does soil sampling, insect scouting and tissue collection that, when analyzed, provide vital information to help farmers make management decisions.

"I work with 32 farmers located from Hart County to Seminole County," Meeks said.

From the very beginning of their canola production experience, those 32 farmers got help from Extension.

"We began working with them before they planted, sampling soils for nutrients and giving recommendations for land preparation," Meeks said.

Finding out what nutrients are in the soil is an important start for any crop. Farmers have to know what the soil has and needs to support a crop. Any needed nutrients can be added after a proper soil test.

The wide program area helps Hudson and participating farmers learn how to make effective canola management decisions in all parts of the state.

Weather can be important in growing canola. "We're learning how cold weather, in particular, affects canola at different growth stages," Hudson said.

Insects, fertility and disease problems vary according to location as well, Hudson said. The information from the program will help canola growers statewide make sound management decisions.

Another important aspect of the Canola Check Program is profit verification. Farmers will know exactly why they did or didn't make a profit.

"They'll be able to see every management decision they made," Hudson said, "and know how it affected the crop. More important, other farmers can see that, too."

Meeks said he's excited to be a part of this program, now in its second year.

"I'm (helping farmers) know there's another crop suitable to Georgia as a cash crop besides the regular crops they grow (corn, cotton, peanuts, rye or soybeans)," he said.

Hudson hopes the program will continue expanding into the 1996-1997 canola season.

"If this year goes as well as we expect," he said, "our funding should continue so we can further the growth of canola in the state of Georgia."

The county Extension office has more information about growing canola and the Canola Check Program.

"This program helps growers make appropriate decisions during canola production and gain confidence in the crop," Hudson said. "We supply the information through Steve's work collecting and getting samples to labs for analysis and through test plot data we have.

"County agents work one-on-one with the farmers, but ultimately the producer makes the management decisions and learns the most from them," he said.