Sam Walton North Carolina rapeseed production rotation

JEFF RIDDLE, shown right, and Sam Walton check seed production in a rapeseed field near Lumber Bridge, N.C.

Rapeseed a good fit for North Carolina grain farmer

• Sam Walton says rapeseed fits in well with other grain crops in well and looks to be a long-term part of the farming operation.  

Sam Walton is a young North Carolina farmer with a famous name and big role to play in his family’s large farming operation.

Rapeseed, he says, fits in well with their other grain crops and looks to be a long-term part of their farming operation.

For a number of years their farming operation was dominated by cotton. The lack of stability in the cotton market and ever increasing production costs, combined with the current high value of grain crops led them to cut back on cotton.

That was the easy part. The hard part was finding replacement crops that had good value and fit into their production system.

“On some of our land we have irrigation, and one goal was to find a way to plant two crops in one year or two crops in alternate years to maximize production under these pivots.

“We can grow soybeans behind wheat, but growing some of our other crops behind wheat gets into a timing problem,” Walton says.

Wheat was good fit with soybeans, and they started growing the crop a few years back. However, in some cases with other crops, it just didn’t fit right, and having an earlier maturing crop to provide some options for double-cropping was a reason they began looking at rapeseed.

The Lumber Bridge, N.C., grower says they tried corn behind wheat last year, but were not happy with the yields they got.

Disease problems with corn planted late behind wheat was the big drawback, but in retrospect, Walton says they probably planted corn too late in a year when the weather favored early planting.

“I think we just ran out of enough light later in the year and that resulted in ears that were not quite filled out,” he says.

Double-crop options

Now, they are looking at corn and cotton behind rapeseed on about 350 acres of irrigated land near Lumber Bridge, N.C. If that works out, they may up the rapeseed acres in following years.

“We have a neighbor who grew rapeseed last year, and we watched him and talked with him a lot, and as much as anything, his success got us interested in trying it,” Walton says.

The planned rotation will be corn-rapeseed-cotton — wheat, which will give them four crops in three years. “That may change after we harvest this first crop of rapeseed,” the young North Carolina grower says.

He notes that rapeseed is planted and managed a lot like wheat, but with some different twists to it.

For his current rapeseed crop, Walton ripped corn middles, and then used glyphosate as a burn-down treatment.

“We used to run our vertical subsoiler at an angle to 30-inch rows,” he says. The result was some rough soil in which to plant small grains.

Now, they spread out the setting on their subsoiler to 38 inches and run it in the same direction as the rows, which made planting rapeseed with a John Deere air drill much smoother.

Rapeseed has tiny seed, so he knew planting would take some extra time to get used to doing. “The seed transmission on our planter runs from 0-100. Wheat, for example is planted on a 70-80 setting.” He started out with a 6.0 setting and quickly learned that was too high. Finally, he got down to a 2.75 setting and was able to get the rapeseed planted with few problems.

He says he made a couple of changes on his planter to move from 7.5 inch row spacings to 15-inch row spacings for rapeseed. Planting tiny rapeseed into crop debris can be difficult, so he added a row cleaner to the drill, which he says seemed to help smooth out the planting.

The fertilizer requirements are a bit different from wheat, the North Carolina grower says. On wheat, the primary fertilizer is 24S, but even that didn’t include enough sulfur for rapeseed.

“We went to a blended fertilizer that included more sulfur and some boron. When we applied the blended fertilizer, we also added herbicides, which seemed to hold weeds in check,” he says.

He put a total of 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre on his rapeseed crop, applied in three applications.

The first application was applied after planting, unlike wheat, and included 50 pounds of 24S, plus 10 pounds of sulfur and a half pound of boron.

He followed that with 50 pounds per acre of 24S in early February and the last 50 pounds of the blended fertilizer when the crop started to bolt in early spring.

Few production problems

Once the crop was up and growing, he says there were few production problems. “We had a really warm winter and we knew disease problems would likely be an issue in our spring crops, but still we had more of a problem with sclerotinia in our rapeseed than we expected, he says.

“Normally, we wouldn’t spray a fungicide on wheat until mid-April, but we had to spray our rapeseed in mid-March this year to deal with sclerotinia.” He applied Proline in March and in April came back with an application of Quadris.

The extra sulfur and boron, and the extra application of a fungicide and slightly higher seed costs make rapeseed a little more expensive to grow than wheat, he says.

“However, in most years, the one fungicide application will be enough and as we get more used to planting rapeseed, the seed cost will likely come down some, too,” he says.

Walton grows rapeseed on contract with Technology Crops International. Jeff Riddle, who is Grower Relations Manager for the company, says plans are to bump up rapeseed acreage in North Carolina this year to about 40,000 acres.

This year the company contracted 20,000 acres, but delayed planting knocked out 3,000 or so acres. Ultimately, he says the plan is to increase production to 100,000 acres and expand into other states in the Upper Southeast.

“We already get inquiries from growers in South Carolina and Virginia about growing rapeseed, but in most cases we don’t have the storage capacity to hold the crop.

“We’ve found that’s a big challenge for growers who in most cases are planting spring crops at the time rapeseed needs to be harvested. So, we try to make harvest and delivery as easy as possible for growers,” Riddle says.

Walton says being a first time grower of the crop produces a lot of questions. “I’ve been real pleased with our arrangement with Technology Crops International. They have been there all through the process to answer questions, if not in person on the phone. For example, they found the early sclerotinia problems in other fields and gave me a heads-up to look for it, and told me what to do to manage the disease,” Walton says.

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