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Juncea Canola Needs Better Yields

James Staffen of Nipawin, Sask., seeded 45 acres of Xceed this year because he

wanted to check out the possibility of straight cutting. After taking off yields

that were 15 bushels to the acre, he says, “I’m not attracted to it any more.”

Juncea canola made its large-scale debut on the Prairies in 2009. While both Pioneer Hi-Bred and

Viterra have worked for years to develop marketable juncea canola varieties, this was to be the breakout year. But in talking to farmers who grew the crop, the yield potential compared to napus hybrids is just too low.

In 2008, Viterra’s Xceed juncea canola varieties were tested in fifty-five 20-acre plots across the Prairies. In 2009, 250 growers across the three Prairie provinces seeded 70,000 acres of Xceed. Pioneer Hi-Bred’s juncea variety, 45J10, first released in spring 2008, may have taken a back seat this year. It seems very few growers planted it.

Juncea canola is a mustard species developed to produce canolaquality oil and meal. It is different from conventional canola, Brassica napus, because it can withstand higher heat and lower water levels. Doug Knight, Viterra’s director of seed marketing, outlines additional juncea advantages: The meal tends to have higher protein and, as it turns out, is more digestible than other canola meal. Juncea is also non-GM so it meets European standards. Reduced pod shatter means juncea can be straight combined with fewer losses than napus. But for all these benefits, Murray Hartman, oilseed specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, says the success of juncea canola will ultimately boil down to yield.

So far this year, Hartman has heard of yields at both ends of the spectrum. Doug Knight has reports anywhere from 20 to 50 bushels per acre.

Informal reports from southwestern Saskatchewan — a key juncea target market — indicate that conventional canola, especially InVigor, outdid the juncea. But it was a cool, wet summer in that region. Many agree that in a dry summer, juncea would probably outcompete napus varieties in that region. One agretailer in the area guesses that half the growers who tried it this year will try it again in 2010. He figures the other half will probably wait a couple of years to see how it goes.

James Staffen, who farms 4,000 acres near Nipawin, Sask., with about 1,000 acres in canola, doesn’t think he’ll try juncea again. He seeded 45 acres of Xceed this year because he wanted to check out the possibility of straight cutting. After taking off yields that were 15 bushels to the acre, he says, “I’m not attracted to it any more.”

Staffen grew InVigor in the field next to the juncea that “went over 40 bushels to the acre” and other open-pollinated varieties that went over 35. He says the juncea “stood up really well” because it grows like mustard, and it also combined well, but he was counting on higher yields. It also shelled out more than he hoped — about 30 per cent.

Cam Petruic of Petruic Seed Farm in Avonlea, Sask., southwest of Regina, has one client who planted about 300 acres of the Pioneer Hi-Bred juncea variety 45J10 two years in a row. That farmer reportedly had a good crop this year, Petruic says, with yields that compared well to hybrid canola.

Scott Klemp, a Pioneer Hi-Bred sales rep in Pense, Sask., west of Regina, said none of his clients planted juncea this year but he has had a few in the past. Three years ago, the juncea did just as well as conventional, but last year, Klemp says, it didn’t fare so well.

Jesse Bruce, an agrologist with Viterra at Moose Jaw, says growers who planted juncea say the crops looked good in 2009. He sees juncea gaining in popularity but he isn’t sure it’s best suited to Moose Jaw, or the Regina triangle, since the soil is heavy clay and retains moisture well. Bruce thinks juncea will do better around Central Butte and Eyebrow because the soil is lighter and has lower water holding capacity.

Brad Hanmer farms several thousand acres around Govan, Sask., north of Regina. About half is seeded to canola. Hanmer also owns Hanmer Seeds Ltd. None of his clients planted juncea in 2009. He feels that in his area “where Argentine hybrids produce moderate-to-high yields,” the yield penalty for growing juncea is just too high. Hanmer tried growing 200 acres of Pioneer Hi-Bred’s juncea variety for four years. At that time, when non-hybrid, non-herbicide trait canola produced 30 to 35 bushels per acre, the yield penalty for juncea was four to five bushels per acre. But in 50-bushel-an-acre years, the per-acre penalty jumped to 20 bushels. For him, saving on swathing isn’t enough. Hanmer thinks a farmer in his area would have to think really hard about not using a hybrid canola, but admits it might be different for farmers south of Highway 1.

JUNCEA EXPANDS CANOLA REGION

For Venkata Vakulabharanam, oilseed crops specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, juncea’s real benefit is that the canola production area will be expanded. Brassica napus won’t thrive in areas that are especially hot and dry. Juncea will.

Derwyn Hammond, Canola Council of Canada agronomist based in Brandon, Man., agrees. He says juncea will compete best

in the brown and dark-brown soil zones of southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta because napus yields fall down there. Napus crops in these areas are often short and spindly, which means the swathes are light and aren’t anchored down well because the stubble is too short. Given the wind, Hammond thinks straight cutting would be very attractive to growers in these areas.

Despite the small number of acres planted in Alberta, Murray Hartman says juncea is on the radar because “we’re really looking for another oilseed that fits better into brown and dark brown soil zones.” Juncea “may be the one,” he says.

VITERRA LOOKS TO 2010

Doug Knight is confident that 2010 will bring a significant expansion of juncea acres. Growers, particularly in southern Saskatchewan, are looking for a “break crop” — an alternative to the wheat and lentil rotation. Some may have tried canola in the past but failed. If they’re looking for an alternative, Knight thinks juncea could be it.

Others aren’t ready to give up, either. Jesse Bruce feels the future looks good for juncea, but because it’s been around for such a short time, “no one can say for sure how it will go.”

Brad Hanmer makes a comparison to the introduction of canola hybrids: “Twenty years ago, north of Regina, we were not a canola growing area. Now we grow a lot of canola.” For him, the key trait is the ability to straight combine, but yield has to be there, too.

Hartman feels there’s a lot of potential especially if researchers “start putting together the right parents for hybrids.” Petruic and Klemp both note that Pioneer Hi-Bred needs to work on a juncea variety with herbicide tolerance so weed control will be less of a challenge.

Patty Milligan lives on a farm near Bon Accord, Alta.

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Patty Milligan is a freelance writer based at Bon Accord, Alta.

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