Don’t cut corners with canola
There is always interesting research going on but the fundamental canola message hasn’t changed in 30 years.
If you want to optimize or maximize yield, seed early, seed shallow, get the plant count up, apply proper fertility and follow at least a two or three year rotation.
No matter how you slice it, the 67th canola industry meeting in Edmonton this week, heard there is nothing in the research that shows low seeding rates (two to three pounds/acre), wide row spacing, and continuous back-to-back canola crops are practical or sustainable production practices.
A producer might squeak through with one or two “good” years with this approach, but when push comes to shove any short cuts in producing the crop increases risk of a real wreck.
The canola researchers and producers attending the Alberta Canola Research Update all appreciate the economics of farming — sometimes you just have to cut a few corners to make a living. But over the long haul, the best results are achieved through proper recommended production practices.
A couple of key messages repeated at this canola meeting:
- try to get at least a two or three year break between canola crops to reduce losses by insects and diseases;
- keep the plant count up – and that is somewhere between 75 and 100 plants per square metre – that’s seven to 10 plants per square foot. (with most varieties you are looking at five to seven pound per acre seeding rate.)
- and don’t cut corners on crop nutrition. Nitrogen is still the big one, but a proper well-balanced fertility program is needed.
Seeding rate and plant count are key, important, vital (add more adjectives) numbers to pay attention to, say researchers.
You can’t just go by pounds per acre, because with newer varieties and plumper, bigger seeds, the “pound” guideline can really throw off the actual plant count in field.
COUNT & WEIGH SEEDS
So the advice remains, pay attention to the 1000 kernel/seed weight (grams per 1000 kernels) and seed accordingly.
An optimum canola stand is seven to 10 plants per square foot (five is minimum and 20 plants is maximum).With this crop, researchers say you can’t plant 10 seeds and expect to get 10 plants per square foot. A commonly used research average is a 50 per cent germination rate, even with good quality seed. Troy Prosofsky, Canola Council of Canada agronomist in southern Alberta, says under ideal seeding and growing conditions that germination might edge up to 70 to 80 percent, but a good reference point is to figure on 55 to 60 per cent germination.
Here are a couple of examples. So if you get a 60 per cent germination rate, and seed five pounds of a variety that has 2.5 grams of weight per 1000 seeds, that should produce 12.5 plants per square foot. With larger seed that weighs 4.5 grams per 1000 kernels, that would produce about nine plants per square foot. And with some big-seed varieties weighing six grams per 1000 kernels, that five pounds of seed would produce about five plants per square foot. And according to research, five plants isn’t enough — or just the bare minimum. With that larger variety you’d need to seed seven pounds per acre to get into the seven to 10 plants per square foot range.
(Great table on seeding rates on the Canola Council website at: http://www.canolacouncil.org/agronomic_publications.aspx . Open this link and it is the third item under seeding/stand establishment heading).
These high yielding hybrid varieties sometimes send farmers a wrong message. They yield well, but seed is expensive, so I will seed less and the good old elastic canola plant will spread out to fill the field.
Wrong thinking! The fewer plants may grow big, but yields may be reduced and there will be much more uneven maturity in the crop. There may be less weed competition, and if the field gets zapped by an early season frost there just isn’t the plant numbers there for the crop to bounce back.
Neil Harker, a weed researcher with Agriculture Canada in Lacombe, presented results of a high yielding canola study across Western Canada over three years, and consistently the highest yields were at sites where a combination of higher seeding rates and higher fertility were applied. And these higher yields were also at sites where at least one cereal crop was seeded between canola crops. Continuous canola just didn’t cut it.
In this study, Harker used 100 per cent fertility and seeding rate as the check and then seeded varieties at 75 per cent of those rates and also at 150 per cent of the check rates. At the majority of sites over three years the 150 per cent in seeding rate and fertility produced up to a seven bushel per acre yield increase, which is a pretty good return ($80 to $100 more per acre).
Lloyd Dosdall, researcher at the University of Alberta says in a study he conducted yield losses due to insects (never mind disease) were significantly higher in continuously cropped canola compared to canola with at least one and two cereal crops in between. Losses due to increased insect damage amounted to $282 to $377 per acre in continuously cropped canola.
And Murray Hartman, Alberta Agriculture canola specialist made a good point. A farmer might seed a high yielding hybrid, cut a few corners, and still be delighted with a 50 bushel per acre yield. And that is good. But, perhaps if the guy had used proper production practices he might have got 65 bushels/acre like his neighbor down the road. Something to think about.
(P.S. this was the 67th annual canola update meeting. Phil Thomas, retired AB specialist, started organizing canola meetings in 1945 about 30 years before canola was invented. He’s a real forward thinking guy. Okay, seriously, it was the 67th meeting. Thomas organized the first one in 1977 and there has been almost two meetings per year, ever since.)
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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