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Fertilizing Canola For Maximum Yields

Western Canadian farmers have seen a revolution in canola yield potential thanks to the advent of hybrid lines and herbicide tolerant varieties. While yield potential of new hybrids is impressive, these varieties must be well fed to reach the top yields of 50 bushels per acre or better.

On my little place at Dundurn. Sask., I have three hopper bottom bins that will hold 50+ bu/ac from the quarter section. Someday before I croak it would be nice to fill those bins with canola, and even better if it could be done with the price at $13/bu.

This year Mother Nature provided a soil full of water to start the season and that was known early last fall. Surface water is fickle and changes quickly but subsoil moisture sits patiently until a plant root comes along to suck it up.

On May 10 to 12, 2011, I seeded 5.1 lb./ac. of Pioneer 45H29 bought from Ardell Seeds at Vanscoy. Last fall, 65 pounds of N/ac was applied as anhydrous, and then on May 2, 150 lb./ac. of 21-0-0-24 was floated on most of the quarter. Some parts were too wet and are low-lying and likely didn’t need the sulphur anyway. A nice rain was received the next day to wash the broadcast fertilizer in.

I also have a few acres of newer breaking that was an old pig pasture in days gone by. It has not seen a pig in probably 30 years but the leavings are very much in evidence. There was no fertilizer applied to the breaking except for a bit of seed-placed P and the outside two rounds did not get even that.

The following pictures taken June 28 tell quite a story about the role of soil fertility in getting the potential out of hybrid canolas. Please note that the following photos are not a true story about the entire crop; there are places of weak stand and the crop is not all at same stage. Dry, windy conditions after seeding and a poorly performing fertilizer attachment on my museum piece seeder (MF 360 discer) made for poor distribution of P.

But, the photos do tell a story about soil fertility. (Thanks to John Lee of Agvise Labs, North Dakota, for the soil analyses).

Photo 1. This is the newer ground with no fertilizer applied. The crop had vigor from the start and has big cabbage leaves, is flowering well and generally looks good. But, take a good look at the soil test data — soil Organic Matter is high as are all available nutrients.

Photo 2. This is what some of the regular field looks like after a big dose of various fertilizers were applied. It’s a respectable looking crop, but nothing like the breaking. The soil organic matter is moderate and N, P and S are low.

Photos 3 and 4. The eroded knolls are almost always a disappointment when the combine rolls over them. The soil test says it all — they need big doses of almost everything. On the left is what most knolls look like. On the right is a small area where I took left over 12-52-0 and broadcast it at a very high rate after seeding and rains after that moved it in. It made a huge difference.

These few pictures drive home the importance of soil fertility in achieving yield goals of hybrid canola varieties. They are like thoroughbred race horses that need a

1. New breaking soil test: OM 5.2%, N 64, P 198, K 3084, S 88 lb./ac. to one foot.

3. Soil test on knolls: OM 2.1%, N 9, P 20, K 656, S 14 lb./ac. at one foot.

special class of oats to reach peak performance.

This experience also drives home the role of soil testing. We often over interpret soil testing and look for big yield differences with small changes in measured fertility. The soil test data from the breaking drives home what it really takes to make crops grow to full potential.

J.L.(Les)Henryisaformerprofessorand extensionspecialistattheUniversityof Saskatchewan.HefarmsatDundurn,Sask. Herecentlyfinishedasecondprintingof Henry’sHandbookofSoilandWater”,abook thatmixesthebasicsandpracticalaspects ofsoil,fertilizerandfarming.Leswillcover theshippingandGSTforGrainewsreaders. Simplysendachequefor$50toHenry Perspectives,143TuckerCres,Saskatoon, SK,S7H3H7,andhewilldispatchasigned bookposte-haste.

About the author

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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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