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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

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

– 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.


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:
. Open this link and it is the third item under seeding/stand establishment


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

(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

Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at
[email protected]







About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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