Diary of a tough year for canola

The sordid story of a Saskatchewan canola crop, from seedbed preparation to the final sale

As I was preparing to write this, the Dec. 1 issue of Grainews arrived with Lee Hart’s front page article: “Holy Canola! A 74 bushel average yield.” No 74 bushels here. My story is: the land is rolling dark brown, loam texture, glacial till with some stones and many sloughs. It has been continuous cropped wheat/peas/wheat/canola for 17 years.

September 16, 2014

Harvested a 48 bu./ac. wheat crop, CWRS No. 2 with 14.8 per cent protein and a bit of fusarium.

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Summer Landscape with a field of yellow flowers. Sunset
blackleg infection on a canola stem

October 18, 2014

Applied 94 pounds N/acre as anhydrous ammonia injected three to four inches deep with narrow knives into perfect moisture conditions.

October 20, 2014

Hot day, 24 C so harrowed, regular tine, to level and distribute straw. A nice seedbed resulted.

November 17, 2014

Floated on 100 lbs./acre 21-0-0-24

April 23, 2015

Snow all gone, weather warming up and looking like we might have an early spring for a change.

April 25, 2015

A foot or more of wet heavy snow, leaving 2.5″ water in rain gauges when it melted and many sloughs with water.

May 2 to 4, 2015

Weather had warmed up nicely, leaves were on the poplar trees, must be time to seed. Seeded 4.2 lbs./acre 45H29 RR canola with museum piece CIH 7200 drill with atom jet openers. Phosphate with seed was 20 lbs./acre P2O5 as 11-52-0. Apart from wet sloughs, seeding conditions were excellent — moisture was right at surface and soil fully recharged with water. Started out seeding about 1 inch deep but with moisture right there decided to pull it up and just tickle it in.

Big mistake! The moisture was right there but the weather turned cold right after seeding. The cold delayed germination and soil dried up so shallow seeding was a disaster. Never again.

Saskatoon weather station recorded frost on 11 nights in May, the coldest being -5.7 C on May 18. Where was global warming when we needed it!

With the cold weather, growth was slow to none and germination poor.

May, 2015

Rain: almost 0. It was not the lack of rain but the cold that gave the crop such a struggle. It made me sick to look at the poor stand and poorer growth.

We considered reseeding but many gave me advice not to — good advice. The crop was struggling. Some cotyledons were frozen off and the green growing point between cotyledons was limp. Did not spray Roundup at usual time top to avoid further stress on hugely stressed plants.

June 4, 2015

Finally sprayed 0.5 litres/acre of glyphosate and control was very good. With first spraying being so late a second was not done, so there were some weeds in what is usually a very clean crop. Only one spray was not that I was too cheap, it just did not work out with turtle-like early growth.

June 8, 2015

The best of it didn’t look great. I have no pictures of the worst. That was just a lot of bare ground. Who wants a picture of bare ground?

June rain: total 1.5 inches. The biggest rain event was 0.3 of an inch.

July 13, 2015

By mid-July, the plants had big cabbage leaves and no disease.

By mid-July, the plants had big cabbage leaves and no disease.
photo: Les Henry

By mid-July, the plants had big cabbage leaves and no disease. When the weather finally warmed up the canola took off like a rabbit. It’s hard to imagine the resilience of that crop.

Parts of the field never really turned green. It seemed to go straight from brown to yellow!

July 28, 2015

The first real rain of the season: a 3.6″ nice slow rain. It all soaked in and the water table rose. But, it was too late for the 2015 crop. It survived on the ample soil moisture and, in places, the high water table.

July 30, 2015

By July 30 the crop was well podded and could hold up a spade.

By July 30 the crop was well podded and could hold up a spade.
photo: Les Henry

By the end of July the crop was well podded and could hold up the spade.

August 17, 2015

Many of the plants branched to provide several “main” type stems.

Many of the plants branched to provide several “main” type stems.
photo: Les Henry

Swathed. Many plants had branched to provide several “main” type stems. I picked one plant and counted over 1,000 pods. The blanks filled in much better than I anticipated.

August 30, 2015

The combine rolled through this crop on August 30.

The combine rolled through this crop on August 30.
photo: Les Henry

The combine rolls at 2.5 m.p.h. to put most of it in hopper.

The final elevator yield was 40 bu./acre gross, 37 net. There was dockage — the one shot of glyphosate left some late weeds.

The outcome

2015 was a real lesson in reality and a reminder of the rules in farming:

  • Rule 1 Mother Nature is in charge.
  • Rule 2 If in doubt, see Rule 1.

About the author


Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.



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