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Winter Canola, Peas, and Triticale in the Farming System with Dr. Bill Schillinger

Posted by Blythe Howell | November 9, 2020

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Bill Schillinger. Bill is WSU’s dryland cropping systems agronomist. He’s based at the WSU Lind Dryland Research Station. Bill conducts long-term cropping systems field experiments, and also short duration field and laboratory studies. Prior to joining WSU, Bill worked in agricultural development projects for 10 years in Asia and Africa, with the US Peace Corps and the US Agency for International Development. He has also conducted numerous short-term consultancies around the world for the World Bank, USAID, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Hello, Bill.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Hi, Drew. Thanks for having me today.

Drew Lyon: It’s a pleasure to have you on. You do a lot of great work out there in the low rainfall region of Eastern Washington. And don’t — we don’t have time to talk about all the neat projects you have going but in this episode, I’d like to discuss your work with three promising crops for Washington’s drylands. Those being winter canola, winter pea, and winter triticale. I wonder if you can tell us why winter crops and not spring crops.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, Drew, in a nutshell, you know, farmers and researchers have been looking at spring crops for, oh, decades and decades and decades and those include wheat, barley, oats, you know, pea, canola, camelina, mustard, safflower, sunflower, flax, sorghum, and others. And in a nutshell, none of these have been profitable or stable in the long term compared to their winter wheat fallow rotation. And the basic reason for that is that the spring crops, of course, are flowering later and maturing later, during which time they’re very subject to heat and water stress. And so some years you might get a decent yield and others you don’t. But in the long term they’re — they just haven’t worked out. But I should say that they’re integral in the — into the spring. Some — many of these spring crops are integral in the intermediate high rainfall zones where they’re a very important part of their cropping system, but not in the low zone, which I define is that receiving less than 12 inches of annual precip. You know, the typical wheat fallow, so.

Drew Lyon: Right. So, yeah, one thing I noticed watching your work when I was in Nebraska was just the difference between in Nebraska we got summer rainfall. And here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s primarily winter rainfall. So that’s when the rain comes. And so maybe winter crops are more capable of utilizing that moisture than spring crops.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Yeah, they get going. And I should mention, you mentioned the three crops that we’re going to discuss today. All of these need to be planted after a year of fallow. None of them do well in what we call a recrop situation without a fallow. So that from what we know today so far, these three winter crops all need to be planted after a year of fallow. And they need to be planted fairly early too. And by early, you know, before September 15. And you can plan them later, but you’re going to get some yield decline. So they mimic winter wheat in that sense, as far as planting date in the need for a fallow year before in the low precip zone.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So they offer diversification but not necessarily intensification of the cropping system.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: That’s correct. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, Okay. Still an important thing to have as a weed scientist, that diversification really helps with breaking pest cycles, weed cycles, so —

Dr. Bill Schillinger: You bet.

Drew Lyon: — it’s good to have. So, tell us some of the pros of winter canola from your work.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, yeah, winter canola has really come on in the last 15 years. And it’s not only my work. I’ve been working with it all for 20 years, actually. But some of these farmers have been, yeah, had it for 30 years. But it’s really come on in the last 15 years. Like this last year, 2019 crop year, there were 71,000 acres of canola planted. Most of that was spring canola in intermediate and high rainfall zones. But 21,000 acres of that was winter canola grown in drylands. So that’s increasing every year, we’ve seen over the past year. And then the rotation benefits, you’ve alluded to that, Drew. Of course, you know, we’re planting a brassica or a broadleaf. It’s a great break crop to reduce soilborne pathogens. And as a weed scientist, you’re well aware of the opportunities that allows farmers for grass weed control with, you know, group one herbicides or what have you for downy brome, jointed goatgrass, so — and the farmers are aware of that and so that’s a — that’s really great. There’s a new huge canola seed processing plant or seed crushing plant in Warden, the biggest west of the Rocky Mountains. So that’s a ready access to a crushing plant and don’t need to send it to North Dakota or Canada anymore for crushing. The farmers do report a yield bump after canola. Many farmers report this. You know, up to 20% of your next wheat crop will be, you know, increased in yield with canola as the preceding crop. Now, some of our research out here, we’re learning a lot about the soil microbiome and soil microbiology and I won’t go into that. But anyway, we’ve got a lot of neat studies going on with a lot of people involved trying to figure this out. And probably that bottom line — Well, I should also mention that the private sector is actively involved with breeding and development of new winter canola lines and spring canola and in many of these have some pretty neat traits like residual herbicide tolerance. So, you know, farmers in the Fairfield system can go into canola afterwards profitably. And then again, the big thing is farmers can make some money growing winter canola in the drylands. Even assuming a fairly modest average yield of, you know, 2500 pounds per acre, and oftentimes they can get more and sometimes less, of course. You know, let’s call it 18 cents. I think it was 18 cents last week. You know, you get 2500 pounds at 18 cents, that’s $450 an acre gross. And that would be the equivalent of 90 bushels soft light wheat at $5. So, yeah. But that’s basically the pros I would think in a nutshell.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, lots of things for people to consider lots of possibilities, but then they need to consider the cons. What do you see as the cons of winter canola?

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, Drew, that pretty much comes down to one thing or the main thing, stand establishment. Canola, of course, has a very small seed. And you can’t sock it down with five inches of soil cover like you can winter wheat or winter triticale or winter pea. You really shouldn’t cover it with more than a couple inches of soil. Like most people say, absolutely no more than three inches. And so that makes it tough. And also, canola, the hypocotyl of canola does not like emerging through hot surface soils. And so you know what it’s like in Eastern Washington, you know, in August and early September, the air temperature might be 85, but your soil temperature at the surface might be 110. And so canola does not like emerging to that and it’ll just most of the time will not. So you need to plant shallow and you need to plant when the — basically people think with air temperatures not more than about 85 degrees when the hypocotyl is nearing the soil surface. So in that sense, canola is not a — winter canola is not a crop in drylands that you can just go out and say, well, I’m going to make this a standard part of my crop rotation because many years you won’t be able to plant it because it’s too dry or too hot. But some years you can and you know for example, if we get a summer, August rain, any rain between August 1 and September 15th of a half inch will wet up chem-fallow really well. That dry — you know, it’ll wet up, that’s that farmer term. Yeah. And so that’s an opportunity, you just go out and plant it shallow. And you’d have a very high likelihood of getting a stand. What’s the chance of getting one of those rains? Well, long-term research in the station shows over a hundred years that chance to get in a half an inch or in between August 1 and September 15 is 22%. So, you know, quarter of the time. So, bottom line is you can’t plant it every year. But when you do have an opportunity, drop everything and go plant winter canola.

Drew Lyon: OK. I’ve seen some different canola just this year. There’s some canola that’s — what is this? The very start of October when we’re recording this, it’s very large. It must have been planted, I would guess, back in July maybe. Is there still some work being done on when best to plant canola? Sounds like you prefer it between August 1 and September 15th. But is — are other people trying other times?

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, that’s an excellent question and very relevant. And the answer is yes, farmers and researchers have tried planting earlier. And of course, the advantage of planting earlier is it’s not so hot, and you’re more likely to have water near the surface in your fallow. And so we as researchers have gone out and tried planting on numerous dates beginning as early as June 15. And what we found is if you plant that early, the winter canola will certainly get and you’ll have an excellent stand, but it will get big and then yet get bigger and it will use all of its available water by September, turn white and then die. So, that’s too early. However, some people, and there’s a private company, and I know a couple farmers and we are going to move into this and then possibly Isaac Madsen, the Washington oil seeds extension agronomist will move into this too, trying growth retardants on the young canola seedlings to keep them from growing so much during the summer. And so that might be very promising. And another way you might approach this and they do this in Australia and you’re probably familiar with this, Drew, with all your experience in Australia. But farmers are trying here is what’s called dual purpose canola where you plant it early and then put some cattle out there to graze it, and that way you have some feed, fresh feed for your cattle and it’ll keep the — theoretically in a way keep the canola growth reduced. So both the growth stimulant and the cattle feeding are some possible options where we could get stand earlier.

Drew Lyon: OK. So, lots of benefits to winter canola with one conundrum, how to get a good stand that survives the winter.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So what about some of these other crops? What are some of the pros and cons of winter pea?

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, winter pea, again, this has just sort of come on in the last 10 plus years. Howard Nelson with HighLine Grain is just instrumental in getting this going when he was with them. This last year, there are about 12,000 acres of winter peas grown in the drylands of Eastern Washington. Again, like canola it’s a broadleaf crop so you still get the, you know, good suppression of like soilborne diseases that we have with wheat. You can use grass weed herbicides to clean up your weeds, and some of those are biggie. You know, a huge benefit in the drylands is its unsurpassed emergence, Drew. You can sock winter peas down as deep as you want and they will come up. You get a cresting rain, no problem. It’s a big seed. It — I’m not aware of any instances of farmers having to replant winter pea. It will come up. Don’t be afraid to plant it deep. And, yeah, eight inches of soil cover. It’s amazing. So that’s big, you know, you’re — they know they can go out and plant them once and they will get a stand. Decent winter hardiness, matter of fact, some of these newer varieties have winter hardiness approaching that of winter wheat. They can take the soil temperatures down to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit without snow cover, so that’s not too bad. And they of course fix — they’re legume and they’d fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere, so don’t have to fertilize with nitrogen. They use way less water than wheat. They only root down to about three feet. And they have stable yields. I’ve been, again, I’ve been working with all these crops and I have some long-term experiments with winter pea, two experiments, and their yields are stable. They go through a drought year and still produce, you know, 15, 1600 pounds and then in a wetter year or a normal year you can get up to, you know, 3000 pounds per acre and even more. These are standup peas, no need for any new machinery. And that goes for canola too, by the way. So you can just use your wheat equipment. Your combine, your drills, it will work fine. And you get an — a yield boost in your next wheat crop. And the water savings are pretty substantial of what winter wheat uses versus winter pea. So with both of these — with all of these, well, with both the winter canola and winter pea you’d be looking at in the drylands, you know, a winter pea fallow — winter wheat fallow type rotation are the same. So, a four-year rotation with, again, like you mentioned, just two crops every four years.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And the cons, what’s the downside of the winter pea?

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, the big and huge downside of winter pea is the price, which has been going downhill. This last year, I think the farmers got about eight cents a pound, which is not much. In some of those earlier years they were getting up to 17, 18 and 19 cents per pound. That’s gone down. The country of India has a 50% tariff on any — imported any grain legumes into their country. They are — they’re the world’s — by far the world’s hugest biggest consumer of grain, legumes, and they want to be able to produce their own food, be self-sufficient. So they put this very prohibitive 50% tariff on any imports of legume, so that essentially shut that down. However, on a higher note, many people — this fractionated pea flour, where they break it into the various components, you know, is becoming increasingly popular, and with people becoming, you know, again, increasingly health conscious, who knows where this might go. But right now at eight cents, that’s sort of a struggle. You know, you get the rotation benefits at the end and you don’t pay for the nitrogen. But the price certainly should be higher.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So this is one that agronomically fits really well. We just need the markets to turn around for us a bit.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, and we — but we’ve got some room to move forward on now that breeding is — well, not the agronomy. Well, agronomy certainly but on the breeding, they need to get the pea size a little bit bigger and get the clear seed coat. We have two breeders working on this, Kurt Braunwart with ProGene. You know, he’s very active. And of course, Dr. Rebecca McGee with ARS right in Pullman, both breeding peas. And so, hopefully we’ll get there.

Drew Lyon: Okay. We just have a few minutes left. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of winter triticale.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: OK, winter triticale, again, sort of came in about the last 15 years. It’s a cross between rye and then — cereal rye and wheat. It’s a feed grain basically, a good source of protein, amino acids, B vitamins, you know, so it’s a decent feed, but it is a feed grain. It’s got much enhanced tolerance to both high and low pH soils and low pH soils are becoming a, you know, pretty big deal on some of our higher rainfall regions of the state. They’re less susceptible to many fungal diseases and that includes stripe rust. In all the years I’ve worked with winter triticale, we have not had to spray for stripe rust. Not that it’s — yeah, but we wouldn’t if we had 500,000 acres, you’d probably come on. So you can save some money right there doing that. It has truly excellent winter hardiness. There’s no reported cases of winter triticale and winter killing ever in the PNW. And a biggie, we get on average, in my long-term experience, we’re averaging 15% higher grain yields than winter wheat. And that again is pretty consistent. Some years it’s higher. I don’t have time to go into that but — and it matures before winter wheat. So, you know, well, if you want to get going with your harvest a week early and cut some acres before your wheat is ready, grow some winter triticale, it will be ready. And we do have a — farmers have called it more bullet proofs than winter wheat, which it is. And about three years ago, a group of — a small group of wheat farmers and university faculty lobbied to get federal crop insurance and they were successful in doing so. So, now a farmer can show — can insure his or her winter triticale crop just like wheat or canola or pea with the Federal Crop Insurance.

Drew Lyon: Okay. That’s a big bonus.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And cons, again, maybe just price or?

Dr. Bill Schillinger: You got it. It’s the price. Yeah, even with — it is a feed grain of course. And even with the 15% higher yield, the economists say we still need to get another 10% out of it. It can either be higher yield or higher price to be competitive. And again, this is what 10 years a data from my trial just saying, well, with what you’ve done, we’d still need to get that extra 10%. So I don’t — maybe that’s possible. And another con is the perception by many farmers that this winter triticale must be a feral wheat because it’s got rye as a — cereal rye is one of its parents. However, I’d like to just remind and reassure readers or your listeners that there’s absolutely no evidence that triticale has secondary dormancy, and like wheat does not persist in the soil. It does not persist in the soil any more than wheat. So um–

Drew Lyon: And I hear this quite a bit too, and it does not revert back to rye.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: No, it does — It’s genetically impossible from what I’ve been told to revert back to rye [laughter]. But it does — and, Drew, the big thing, you go out and you drive by a field, and if you see some volunteer triticale, whether it came from a passing truck, or a bird or wherever, it’s sticking up six to eight inches above your wheat canopy and it’s very noticeable. And so you also have volunteer weed out there from that passing truck too, which you would never notice, so. But so that perception does persist. It’s a tough crop, but it does not have secondary dormancy, and it will not revert back to cereal rye. And if I could, Drew, just leave it on a high note, how are we going to get this 10%? Well, there’s some exciting work, the 10% increase in value either through yield or price. There’s some work going on right now, very exciting work at the University of California Davis, where they’re breeding triticale for bread. Not as a whole loaf, necessarily, but as a portion of a flour in bread or other bread products. And they have some head rows at Lind. Some of those look really exciting. They planted in the beginning of this year. And so there might be a future for triticale as a human food.

Drew Lyon: Well, that is a good note that — and I think all three of these crops have real promise and diversity I think is important to a farming system. And we’ve lacked that in the past in the dry areas, so this kind of work is really critical to sustaining that farming system in my opinion. So, thank you for all your work in that area and for continuing to look for alternatives that keep farmers profitable and sustainable in the dryland areas.

Dr. Bill Schillinger: Well, thanks, Drew, and thanks for having me.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s –( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

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