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Mother Nature comes through for canola

Nearly ideal growing conditions this summer and fall led to a bumper canola harvest, North Dakota farmers and agriculture officials said.

"Mother Nature couldn't have written a better script," said Ron Beneda, extension agent in Cavalier County, a key canola-growing area sometimes described as the "canola capital of North Dakota," which is the nation's dominant canola producer.

The big 2013 crop is especially welcome after 2012, when too much heat at a key stage in the crop's development hurt yields.

This year, an unusually wet spring in much of the state's top canola region delayed planting and raised concerns. But summer and early fall weather cooperated perfectly, allowing the crop to overcome its late start.

"This has been a pretty darn good year for canola growers," said Southwest Grain agronomist Chris Binstock. "It started out poorly, but it turned out to be a very good crop. Where the canola came from, I have no idea, but it's been a pleasant surprise."

Cool July temperatures were a boon to canola, a cool-season grass. So was the lack of a September freeze, which allowed late-planted canola to mature properly, farmers and ag officials say.

"I haven't heard from anyone who is disappointed with their canola. They all seemed quite pleased," said Ryan Pederson, a Rolette farmer.

On Pederson's own farm, early planted canola, which has been harvested, did better than he expected.

Late-planted canola, some of which hasn't been harvested yet, "just looked phenomenal all year. It will be interesting to see if the yields will be that much (better) than the early stuff," he said.

September rains in parts of northern North Dakota, where canola is popular, have delayed the harvest of some swathed canola. But canola holds up relatively well in swaths and there's no immediate cause for concern, Beneda said.

Canola also is grown in northwest Minnesota. Farmers in the state planted an estimated 21,000 acres this spring, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hugh Hunt, a Hallock, Minn., farmer who has raised canola since 1987, says this was his best canola crop ever.

In the crucial period when his canola was filling, Hunt said, "We had nice, cool weather. And we had moisture. And we filled and filled and filled."