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Canola Commission Considered

Fri., Dec. 5, 1997, midnight

Canola-based cooking oil, margarine and salad dressing may fuel the next soaring commodities for Northwest farmers.

Canola is not a new crop to the state, but one that’s starting to sprout in more fields as farmers realize its benefits.

“It’s just starting to come into its own,” said Ritzville wheat farmer Curtis Hennings who planted his first field of canola in 1984.

“I was looking for some kind of rotation crop to break up my (wheat) disease and weed cycles,” he said. “My first year wasn’t too bad. I got lucky.”

But his venture into canola drew doubts from neighbors. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” Hennings said. “You get a lot of ‘Oh, that will never work,’ attitude and ‘Looks like he didn’t control his weeds.”’

The canola plant, a member of the rapeseed family, is tall, green and leafy with yellow blossoms. It looks awkward compared to the soft rolling fields of wheat typical to Eastern Washington.

Because more than 40 percent of its seed yields edible oil and it can bring up to $228 an acre, canola is joining the soybean as a commodity to be marketed more heavily on supermarket shelves world-wide. Northwest farmers are sensing the profit potential. Seed grown in the region is sent to crushing plants in Canada, Montana and Japan, but there’s talk of building a plant in the Tri-Cities, which would be extra incentive for area growers.

“That would certainly grow the industry,” said Walter Swenson, agriculture programs administrator for the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “Canola and rapeseed are grown primarily as rotation crops now, not as a cash crop. But there’s potential to do it for cash in the future.”

Thanks to the “Freedom to Farm” bill that was passed in 1996, farmers like Hennings can easily switch from wheat and barley to other crops that might bring them a greater profit that year. “Now you can follow the market,” Hennings said.

Hennings and other canola farmers hope to find support for a state-sanctioned canola and rapeseed commission to assess money from growers and use the funds to develop, market and promote the crop.

“The commission will be a good deal,” Hennings said. “It’s just a means to seek out research and support. Right now the acreage is starting to grow and we’re starting to run into more problems (like weeds and insects).”

The Washington State Department of Agriculture has determined that enough people want a commission to merit a referendum. To validate the ballot, at least 30 percent of the Washington’s 200-plus growers producing at least 30 percent of the state’s canola and rapeseed must vote by Dec. 23. So far, the state has found no opposition.

If a commission is formed, the assessment would be 10 cents per hundred pounds at the first point of sale.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Hannelore Sudermann Staff writer

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