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Editor’s Column: Planning your canola stand

After all of the years we’ve been growing canola in Western Canada, you’d think we’d have the agronomics down pat by now. You would imagine that recommendations around things like seeding rates and row spacing would be set in stone. But that is not the case.

This was obvious when the Canola Council of Canada held its annual Canola Discovery Forum on the topic of plant stand establishment. The Canola Council of Canada recommends aiming for a plant stand with seven to 10 plants per square foot. BASF is now recommending aiming for a plant stand of only five to seven plants per square foot. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry oilseed specialist, Murray Hartman, told workshop attendants, “That’s amazing, for the seed company that’s selling the seed to come up with a recommendation that means lower sales for them.”

BASF’s technical development manager Jared Veness said BASF is recommending the lower plant density to encourage thicker stems (to avoid lodging), and also allow more air through the canopy, to discourage sclerotinia.

But as farmers prepare to plant fewer seeds per acre, agronomists are preparing to take another look at all of their recommendations. Murray Hartman wrapped up the Discovery Forum conference by saying that most of the canola recommendations agronomists have been providing over the years “were calibrated under high density situation.” Now, he says, “you have to question all those things.”

Seeding emergence was a big part of the conference agenda. Currently, only 50 to 60 per cent of canola seeds emerge and grow up into plants. Some speakers recommend using planters to plant canola — paying more attention to each individual seed to try to get that percentage up. Rob Gulden from the University of Manitoba pointed out that this plan works against the basic nature of canola. Biologists divide plants into groups with two very different strategies: r-species and K-species. K-species plants have only a few seeds, that are more likely to survive. Plants like canola that are r-species maximize their total seed production, with lots of small seeds, not all of which will go on to become plants. “Its fundamental strategy is for not every seed to reproduce.”

The end result of the workshop: There is still a surprising amount to learn about the basics of growing canola.

Seed for next year

If you’re taking time to read this, I suspect you’ve finally finished harvest and are taking a short break before you catch up with the rest of your fall work. As I’ve written here before, we were very lucky to finish harvest before it started raining. Now, if we could just get some of that grain sold and moved out of our yard.

Now, on our farm anyway, it’s time to focus on planning. Thinking back over what happened the past year, considering what we could do differently next year, working with our accountant to finalize our books for our corporate year-end.

With that in mind, we have a lot of planning-related information in our November 6 issue. Since you can’t grow a crop without planting a seed, we’re running the first batch of our annual lists of new crop varieties. You’ll have already seen the list of new canola varieties on the cover, and noticed the new TruFlex varieties that will let you increase glyphosate rates and spray over a longer window. On page 8, we have a list of new flax varieties. There are four brand new varieties for this year. I talked with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission’s executive director, Wayne Thompson, about the future of flax breeding. As you’ll also read, the federal government breeding program and Viterra’s breeding program have both gone dormant. We currently have just one researcher breeding flax varieties for Western Canada. Luckily for us, Dr. Helen Booker knows what she’s doing. Wayne Thompson believes she’s running a very strong program at the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon.

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