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Canola challenge comes down to the wire

Canola 100 Challenge: Will there be a farm with a verified 100-bushel canola yield this season?

Is there a winner? Stay tuned to learn if any of the 21 Western Canadian farm “finalists” in the first Canola 100 challenge actually hit the target of producing a 100 bushel per acre canola yield in 2016.

The results and winner, if any, will be announced at the annual Agri-Trend Agrology Farm Forum conference being held in Calgary, Alta., in early December.

With the delayed harvest this fall, it wasn’t until mid-November that the last of the farms participating in the contest actually got the crop combined and weighed by third-party auditors. The results have been closely guarded.

The Canola 100 challenge was announced in July 2015 by then Agri-Trend Agrology president Rob Saik, presenting a challenge to Canadian canola growers to throw everything they had into producing a 50-acre block of canola that, after being cleaned and independently weighed, yielded at least 100 bushels per acre. It wasn’t just for bragging rights either. In the contest, also co-sponsored by John Deere Canada and Glacier Farm Media, the first farmer to produce a 100 bushel yield would also win 100 hours free use of a whole fleet of John Deere equipment, covering all field activities from seeding to harvest.

An audited contest

There have been research plots as well as anecdotal farm reports over the years of canola producing 100-bushel yields, but this Challenge took it to an “official” farm-scale level. Participating farmers could use any techniques (other than irrigation) they wanted to produce a defined 50 acre plot, but the harvest had to be monitored by third party auditors, then the seed cleaned to remove dockage, and then independently weighed to determine if it was a pure 100 bushels or more.

“The idea behind this contest is to open the possibilities as to canola’s potential,” says Saik. “Apply the best production practices, but also think outside the box, try new ideas, push the limits, have fun, just see what we can do with the crop. Let’s see where we can go with it.”

He says the time, management and economics of producing a 100-bushel yield may not necessarily be reasonable for large scale canola production but “pushing the limits” at least shows producers what is possible.

The 100-bushel challenge is in line with, although perhaps a bit more ambitious than the Canola Council of Canada’s stated goal to see producers continue to increase canola yields over the next decade.

Canadian farmers produce about 20 million acres of canola annually and as is often said, since they aren’t making any more land, the production area isn’t likely to change dramatically. But with an increasing demand for vegetable oil and vegetable protein in the world, how does canola fit in to supply that growing market? Increasing yield is a big part of it.

With improved production practices and improved varieties, farmers have already raised the bar on yields. Average Canadian canola yields in 1986 were about 25 bushels per acre. Today the average is about 40 bushels per acre. And it is not uncommon to hear about producers harvesting 50 and 60 even 70-bushel canola yields under more ideal conditions. The Canola Council itself has set a target of seeing Canadian farmers hit an average 52-bushel yield by 2025.

A fun learning experience

The Canola 100 challenge isn’t looking to make a 100-bushel yield an “average”, not in the next couple years at least, but it hopes to just open farmers’ minds to the possibilities of what this crop can do. “Take it seriously, but let’s make it a fun challenge at the same time,” says Saik, of the three-year contest. The first farm to hit a verified 100-bushel yield wins the contest, but if there is no winner in 2016 it will continue through 2017 and 2018 growing seasons.

Saik says he was of two minds about the contest. He is anxious to see a winner, but at the same time he doesn’t want the contest to end too soon. “It would be great to keep it going,” he says. He also sees potential for those involved in the challenge to form their own grower network of sharing ideas and experiences.

The contest was announced in mid-2015, with initially some 80 growers from both Western and Eastern Canada registering for the competition. But for a variety of reasons, as it came down to the wire over the summer of 2016 only 21 farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan posted the $1,000 fee to have their yields monitored and verified.

AgCall Human Resources in Calgary was enlisted to co-ordinate the verification process. Two independent auditors were present as each of the 50-acre contest plots were harvested. Those samples were then cleaned and weighed by an independent grain handling facility.

Contest results for 2016 will be posted on the Canola 100 website at agriprize.com as well as the Grainews website once they are available.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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