Palouse Reporter Rachel Dubrovin explains why the U of I is researching mustard and canola varieties, and why the plants are becoming more popular among local farmers.
Local farmers seem to be following a trend this season.
"We've had a lot more interest in canola and mustard, and if you've driven around the area this spring, you've seen a lot of yellow fields," said University of Idaho Canola and Mustard Breeding Research Scientist Jim Davis.
Many farmers are giving their fields a break from wheat crops, and growing canola or mustard plants instead.
"If you grow wheat, and wheat, and wheat, all the weeds that accumulate in your wheat crop get worse and worse and worse," said University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Professor, Plant Breeder, and Geneticist Jack Brown. "You need to break from that grass."
Planting canola and mustard is gaining popularity among farmers that rarely or never till their land.
"The less you till to control weeds and other pests, the more you need other tools," said Brown. "These are the other tools."
Plowing is an age-old tradition in agriculture, but some farmers are worried about the long-term impact on soil conservation.
"Now we're deciding to take a step back and say, 'Okay, our soil health is going to be benefited by having less plowing, less tillage," said Brown. "And we a have new systems that we can come in and plant into stubble."
Researchers at the University of Idaho are working with local farmers to find out which types of canola and mustard are the most beneficial to crops, and which produce the highest yields.
"We're trying to hit all the different sub-climates of the Pacific Northwest," said Davis.
When it comes to choosing between the two, researchers said that mustard can withstand more heat, while canola will do better in wetter, cooler climates.
"If you're into the area where you're starting to get down to 15 inches or less annual rainfall, you definitely want to have a hard look at mustard," said Davis.
Mustard and canola plants aren't only beneficial to wheat crops, as farmers can also profit off of them because they can be sold and turned into food. Researchers also discussed new wheat breeds and stripe rust management during the field day.