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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.
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Drew Lyon: Our guest today is Dr. Isaac Madsen. Isaac is a soil scientist and a native of the Northwest. He currently serves and the extension agronomist for the Washington Oilseeds Cropping Systems Project at WSU. He has been involved in research in soil health, plant root-soil interactions, soil fertility, and alternative crops. His current research focuses on stand establishment and winter survival in canola, as well as alternative cropping practices, such as legume, oilseed intercropping, and integrated livestock and dual cropping systems. Hello Isaac.
Isaac Madsen: Hello Drew.
Drew Lyon: So, how is the 2020 canola season shaping up this year?
Isaac Madsen: So, the 2020 canola year is looking very, very good. As far as yields for spring canola, no numbers are in yet but for winter canola we are getting yield numbers in, and, I think, the first fields I heard being cut were probably about three weeks ago, so anywhere from 2,500 pounds up to 3,000 pounds and then your anomalies above that, there are definitely fields or parts of fields that are going 3,500 pounds and I’m sure you could find a small plot that would go for 4,000 pounds but that’s a pretty good yield. That’s good to hear about. And, you know, I’ve been talking to growers who are saying, “Hey this is making me the same money that wheat is making me”. In Washington, that’s not every year you get to hear that.
Drew Lyon: Yeah, I was wondering how, because we had a rather dry start to this season and yet we had those really nice May/June rains and then we’ve been fairly cool so all of that should have boded well for canola yields I would think.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, I think those May/June cooler weather there really helped us have flowering. So we got nice, long flowering. Sometimes our flowering gets hit by the heat and you abort all those flowers and you can really take a hit on yield. The one thing that did happen some is those late frosts. When I was out scouting fields, you would find aborted pods and they would be at the same sort of height along those frost events most likely coming in and causing those pods to abort at certain points.
Drew Lyon: Okay. So that would be the winter canola or did the spring canola experience frost or are they that much later that they didn’t see that?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, so, I think I saw on the winter canola it was in the pods and then spring canola we had some warm weather at the start of March and a lot of people got really excited, including myself, and planted at the start of March and then we got some freezes and that caused some really bad stands. We actually had one trial, we were very tempted to terminate it because the stand looked so poor and we decided to wait a few weeks and now it’s – I don’t want to get too excited – but it’s spring canola and I’m betting it’s around 1,800 pounds. So, canola can look bad sometimes and something can come out of it is I guess what I’m saying [ laughter ].
Drew Lyon: I guess I’ve been really impressed because you can see some really poor stands but once it starts to really grow and bolt it really compensates for those poor stands. It does really quite well. I’ve been really impressed with the crop because I’ve seen a number of fields and I thought, “That’s going nowhere.” And then you look at it a few weeks later and it looks really good.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah I always use the analogy of the kid that just looks really, really wimpy in middle school, and then in high school, he’s the jock [ both laugh ] for some reason they hit that growth spurt and they just go.
Drew Lyon: So what were some of the more common questions you got this year about canola or oilseeds in general?
Isaac Madsen: So, I always get questions about varieties. You know, what variety should people look at planting. There’s a whole host of things we can cover there. Insects were actually, I would say that was the abnormality this year, a lot more insect questions than normal and I think that might have something to do with it was maybe a little bit milder of a winter so maybe some more insects survived than normal.
Drew Lyon: What insects are we talking about?
Isaac Madsen: So one that I’d never heard of being such a problem that it needed an application was blister beetles, actually. Which is kind of funny. They’re – usually, they just cause little small pockets of damage and they can be a problem in alfalfa but not really in canola so much. They’re a problem in alfalfa because the hay quality is bad because it blisters over its mouth, that’s why it’s caused a blister beetle. But they eat a lot, and usually, they’re just in these little colonies that don’t cause a lot of damage but there was at least one, and I think two fields this year where they got going like crazy in the canola and actually started eating it down and they’ll actually eat the flower head right off. I have some pictures of that happening which is something I’d heard about but that was a new pest to me. And then some flea beetles in the fall and then some of the spring, and then seedpod weevils. We had some fields that saw some pretty severe seedpod weevil infestations.
Drew Lyon: Okay well, you mentioned varieties. What were some of the winter and spring varieties that you think are performing well?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, so, canola had some time now to adapt to the northwest. So I think it you go back twenty years it was pretty new, and there weren’t very well adapted varieties. One thing to think about with varieties selection is you always have to think about what herbicide packages you’re going to use and what’s been on the field because carry-over could be a massive problem. And then you’ve gotta think if you want to go over for the GMO or the non-GMO marketing, and that can be another difference. So, for instance, in winter canola you know it’s mostly non-GMO.
Drew Lyon: And can you explain for our listeners why you want – what the difference is between growing a GMO and a non-GMO?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, so the non-GMO goes to a different market, actually, and I was just talking to Daniel Stenbakken who works for Viterra, so the price of that can be from a dollar to a dollar-thirty more than the price of non-GMO so that can really add up. And talking to Daniel, he said that they’ve really seen the demand for that go up. One of the issues with the non-GMO is they have to crush it over the course of a year and they don’t really have anywhere to store it so if you are thinking that you’re going to direct haul non-GMO at harvest at least get it contracted, get it set, or have some alternative storage plans.
Drew Lyon: So, what’s more popular? Are GMO’s more popular than non or is it the other way around?
Isaac Madsen: So non-GMO is more popular I would say in the winter canolas. Once in awhile I’ll run into a GMO winter canola field but mostly the spring canola’s are GMO. It really has to do with the herbicide resistance traits.
Drew Lyon: Okay. I was just going to say, and GMO stands for “genetically mortified organism”. And so what are the traits? It’s RoundUp Ready and it’s LibertyLink, is that a GMO?
Isaac Madsen: Yes.
Drew Lyon: Those are the two?
Isaac Madsen: Yup, so RoundUp Ready, which is by far the most wide-spread trait, and then LibertyLink, which is is glufosinate. And so those are handy for weed control and that’s why you see it in the spring canola is that spring canola out here further to the east where your wheat yields are very good and winter canola isn’t so easy, it’s basically fitting in there for weed control, Italian rye and these things.
Drew Lyon: I know it’s a big tool for Italian Ryegrass here in the Palouse area.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, and so that’s why I think we are seeing that that way is we are seeing more RoundUp Ready out this way and then less as you go east, essentially. So I think, if I had to break it down, you know–
Drew Lyon: As you go west.
Isaac Madsen: Oh, yes. Sorry [ both laugh ]. Central. So yes, as you go west toward central Washington that’s gonna be the winter canola and then as you go east.
Drew Lyon: And less GMO there and more GMO here in the Palouse. Okay. So I always like hearing your different research projects going because you don’t do your average research. You’re kind of playing on the edge of things. Curious what’s some of the more interesting research you have going on this year?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah so I think the last time I was on I talked in depth about pea-ola and so I won’t cover that. That’s still one of the more interesting things.
Drew Lyon: And pea-ola is?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah it’s a pea-canola intercrop. And last time I was on the podcast we talked about that extensively so I forget the episode but if people want to learn more about that they —
Drew Lyon: Yeah we can link to that and put that in our show notes.
Isaac Madsen: Awesome. Yeah. That would be great. Other innovative projects we are working on is this idea of early seeding winter canola and then doing something to control its growth. So one of the major issues with winter canola is you have to seed it into good moisture and you have to seed it shallow, and so if you’re seeding it into a fallow you’re kind of fighting this battle where the moisture line is going down throughout the season. Especially if it’s chem-fallow. And so you’re going to have to figure out a way to get the seeds to come up at a greater distance than they want to or you’re going to have to seed earlier. And the problem with seeding earlier is that if you seed early your plant can get too big in the fall and it actually can lead to winter kill if the plant essentially gets too tall, it becomes more vulnerable. And so what we’ve been looking at is if we plant early, we know we get better stands in that instance because we have better moisture, so what are sort of viable techniques then for controlling the growth of the plant? So we are looking at a few plant growth regulators. We have three trials out on that this year, so Ritzville, Davenport, and then Endicott area with early seeded, so that would be mid-July seeded canola. So quite a bit earlier than sort of the typical dates of I would say August, you know, late August maybe. So that’s kind of an exciting thing I would say is those early seedings and the growth control. The growth control plant options we are looking at so plant growth regulator, mowing, and then also grazing. And that grazing one for me is the most interesting one because I always, from the soil health perspective we integrating livestock back in we would be doing some increase nutrient cycling and would be increasing bacteria into the system we don’t have. And so I’ve got a few places we’ve tried that and it is really variable. Sometimes the yields the same as non-grazed and then sometimes you see this massive hit. I harvested a plot out near Dusty and I think 7 or 800 pounds was right in there for the average so that doesn’t make sense from a canola perspective to be growing winter canola at 7 or 800 pounds, but then other times we’ve got 3,000 pound yields.
Drew Lyon: You’ve got the benefit of the forage and then good yields on top of it.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah, so I’m really excited about that. I think it’s gonna be — the people that adopt that are gonna be cowboys who do a little bit of farming or some — you have to have both operations right there and together. And we are also experimenting with mixing grasses into the canola when we plant it because canola on its own has a lot of protein so it can be really a high-value forage but it lacks fiber, essentially, so that can cause digestive issues for the cattle. So when we’ve set up projects like this we always some pretty good roughage available of some sort and one of the things we’ve started doing this year was seeding oats into it and that actually improved the forage quality quite a bit just having oats in there.
Drew Lyon: Okay. That would be a spring oat that would die out over the winter, then?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah exactly.
Drew Lyon: Okay.
Isaac Madsen: There are some people who don’t actually even do the cattle looking at oats as a nurse-crop, similar I think to what you would do in alfalfa.
Drew Lyon: Yeah so it used to be a way of fighting weeds in alfalfa when you first establish it.
Isaac Madsen: And the thought is you’re gonna put a grass herbicide on anyhow so if you have any oats for escape for whatever reason the winter should get them but if they don’t, go in there with Fisher or Clethodim.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Well interesting. We’ll have to keep an eye on how that does. If growers are interested in learning about how your studies go is there a place where they can go to find out about? Do you place reports on your website?
Isaac Madsen: Yeah so we try to keep the Facebook page somewhat up to date and that’s Washington Oilseeds — I forget the exact URL on it — and then similar for our website which is oilseeds.wsu.edu.
Drew Lyon: Okay. And we’ll get that address and make sure we put up your Facebook page and your website and put it in the show notes. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the canola, but this is the oilseeds project. What other oilseeds are you working with and which do you think maybe show the greatest promise for eastern Washington?
Isaac Madsen: So I think flax and sunflowers are the two that have been around on small acreage and I think they would actually do well in the area. I’m actually going to try to get some acres of winter flax out this year just to see if it survives the winter. But I think those are really — you know, what’s lacking there is — I think we can grow those well. It’s the markets and the supply chains. So I know at Global Harvest, the company up out at Spokane that does birdseed, I think he’s the main market for sunflowers right now, which, coming from Nebraska as you know, the birdseed market is kind of low-end.
Drew Lyon: Yeah it’s kind of low-end.
Isaac Madsen: Low value on sunflower seeds [ laughter ].
Drew Lyon: Confection is the high, oil is the middle, and birdseed is where you send the seed that doesn’t meet the oil or the confection requirements.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah so I think that would be the thing to look into with sunflowers is if we can make some higher quality and then if supply chain could develop to actually take care of that because that was one of the — when I worked with Sheppards Grain we were doing a lot of sort of alternative crop development on it. But you really have to have some way to handle that and the system in eastern Washington is not set up to handle these specialty crops so much so you have to think about where it’s going to go afterwards.
Drew Lyon: I know in western Nebraska the first few years we worked with sunflowers, you had to truck them up to North Dakota which at 28 pounds a bushel was expensive trucking. And then late in the 90s, Bob Dole, who was the senator from Kansas at that time, got some money to convert a sugar beet factory into an oilseed crushing plant in Goodling, Kansas and that’s when sunflowers took off in the Great Plains because you needed that infostructure there to handle it and until you have it, it can be difficult.
Isaac Madsen: Yeah. I had a grower tell me once, he said “I can grow anything out here if you can sell it for me.” [ both laugh ]
Drew Lyon: There’s a lot of truth to that. Alright. So, sunflower and flax and you mentioned winter flax. Where’s that being grown? I’ve not heard of winter flax before.
Isaac Madsen: So I don’t know that much about it either but I contacted mine out of Kentucky, has his hands on some.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Interesting, I’ll be interested to see how that goes. Sounds like it was a good year, 2020 for canola. And we’ll hope 2021 is similarly as strong. It’s nice to have that rotational flexibility. As a weed scientist, I like to see it on a rotations because it helps us fight different weeds so keep up the good work and keep getting canola spread. Thanks for your time, Isaac.
Isaac Madsen: Thank you, Drew.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org –(email@example.com). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu 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.