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Extra canola inputs appear to pay off

That 100-bushel yield still a bit elusive, but growers are pushing their fields to the limits

David Harrish figures the extra agronomic attention he paid to a Canola 100 contest plot on his north-central Alberta farm in 2017 would probably pay off for the rest of his canola acres.

Harrish, who dished out some extra TLC to about 70 acres of Pioneer Hi-Bred canola this past season, says it produced about an extra 12 bushel per acre yield, compared to the rest of his 700 acres of canola.

“It was a return of about 1 ½ times the input costs,” says Harrish, who farms near Calmar, just south of Edmonton. “Our land is pretty consistent here, so we probably would have seen close to that return over the whole canola crop. It is something to consider for next year.”

This was the second year that Harrish participated in the Canola 100 challenge. It is a contest launched in 2016 jointly by Agri-Trend Agrology, John Deere Canada and Glacier Farm Media — publishers of Grainews. The three-year contest is open to all Canadian canola growers — the first registered contestant to achieve an average, verified 100-bushel yield on 50 acres of canola wins the grand prize. And the grand prize is 100 hours free use of a whole fleet of John Deere equipment, covering all field activities from seeding to harvest.

Farmers can register for the contest in late winter, before the growing season starts, and then they can decide part way through the year to opt to have the yield from their designated plot cleaned, and weight verified by third party auditors. There’s a $1000 fee for the verification process. Harrish says his 2016 crop got off to a poor start, so he stopped short of verification. This year, although flea beetles presented a challenge early on, he saw it through to the final weigh in.

“I know I didn’t average 100 bushels per acre this year and I haven’t heard the final yield figure after cleaning and weighing,” he says. “The crop was a bit tough when it was combined, but the yield monitor was showing about 85 bushels per acre. The rest of our canola was around 72 bushels per acre.” His son Curtis who also entered the Canola 100 challenge “might have had slightly better yields on his land,” says Harrish.

For the 2017 contest season, Harrish selected about 70 acres for the Challenge. The field, seeded to hard red spring wheat in 2016, had also received some hog manure in the past, although Harrish wasn’t sure if there was any residual benefit from the manure.

Harrish, who follows a three-year crop rotation, cultivated the wheat stubble in the fall of 2016 and using Valmar equipment also applied about 100 pounds per acre of 0-0-60 potash. A couple of seasons ago he also had a bio-sulphur product applied to the whole farm. Produced by the Calgary-based Bio-Cycle the Bio-Sul Premium product, custom applied by the company, is made from recycled products. It contains 70 per cent elemental sulphur and 30 per compost. It is intended to provide a residual benefit to the soil for five years. For Harrish, 2017 was the second cropping season after the product had been applied.

In the spring of 2017, Harrish deep banded potash and urea on his canola, followed by a broadcast application of urea on top of the soil. He applied a light tillage to work that in.

Using the more precise RTK guidance system for the seeding operation, he moved the seed row over five inches from the earlier banded urea and potash and seeded a Pioneer Protector Clubroot Resistant variety. Harrish targeted a plant stand of five plants per acre. It worked out to about 4.5 pounds of seed per acre.

“To apply these higher rates of fertility it can’t all go with the seed, so I try to place it around the seed row with different applications,” he says.

With potash, sulphur and most urea requirements looked after in earlier field applications, he seeded the canola with a double-shoot seeding system. Some more urea was applied below the seed while phosphate with a micronutrient product containing copper was included in the seed row.

“We seeded in mid-May and the crop faced a fair bit of flea beetle pressure,” says Harrish. “There was good soil moisture at seeding, but later we got a heavy rain which caused the soil to cake a bit. Crop emergence wasn’t perfect and the flea beetles were in there too, so we didn’t know what to expect.” Despite those challenges the crop did establish with the targeted five plants per square foot.

Along with inputs applied prior to and at seeding, the Challenge plot also received in-crop treatments. Along with Roundup Ready herbicide to control weeds, Harrish made three in-crop nutrient applications, to foliar apply boron and potash. A fungicide was included twice with those two of those foliar treatments — once at the bolting stage and again at the 30 to 40 per cent flower stage. The final boron application was made later in the growing season at about 60 per cent bloom to help the crop recover from some mid-July heat blast. Plant tissue tests were also taken during the growing season to monitor any nutrient deficiencies. “They didn’t really show anything was lacking,” he says.

Canola on the 70-acre block was swathed in early September and within that area Harrish selected 50 acres to be combined in early October for the Challenge. Although he waited as long as he could, the crop still came off at about 13 per cent moisture.

“Overall I was pleased with the crop this year,” he says. “Although it was dry at times we did end up with reasonable moisture. When we were combining any high spots or knolls we saw a change in yield, yet in the lower areas the yield was phenomenal.”

About the author

Field Editor

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

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