AAC Brown 18, the first hybrid brown mustard available in Canada, has pushed through a yield ceiling that breeders have been trying to break for 40 years.
“The trials we did this year in Swift Current, open pollinated varieties were running about 25 bushels per acre — Hybrid 18 was 29-ish. It’s quite consistently a 15 to 20 per cent yield advantage based on the registration data. If a guy is used to 30 bushels per acre, he’s probably going to be getting 36 with Hybrid 18. At $15 per bushel, he can be making another $90 per acre. That’s pretty significant,” says Rick Mitzel, executive director of Sask Mustard and CEO of Mustard 21.
Growers who manage the hybrid brown mustard for maximum productivity may fare even better, Mitzel adds.
Why it matters: AAC Brown 18 could give farmers a 15 to 20 per cent yield bump, which means an extra $90 per acre — or more — in some cases.
“Some of the more traditional mustard growers treat mustard like a low input crop. Guys who are used to growing canola can see the benefit of higher seeding rate and improved fertility. They’re saying, ‘What if I treat this like a hybrid canola — put some more fertility to it, maybe do a fungicide program.’ Those guys are going to see even better results (compared to a traditionally managed conventional variety).”
Yield, vigour and disease package
Sask Mustard’s board chair, Derek Dewar, and his sons grew 140 acres of AAC Brown 18 on their farm near Hazlet, Sask., in 2020. The Dewars manage all of their land for maximum productivity, including conventional mustard varieties. Dewar thinks they achieved 10 to 15 per cent yield increases over conventional varieties, though he notes that estimate isn’t scientific as he wasn’t growing a conventional variety like Centennial alongside for comparison.
In addition to the yield bump, Dewar appreciated the hybrid’s vigour.
“It’s not resistant to flea beetles, but the plant vigour helps it recover from early growing stage flea beetle infestation. And it provides good ground cover that, under good germination conditions, makes it reasonably competitive against weed infestation,” he says.
He noticed the maturity process was slow — stems didn’t mature quickly so it created a bit of a harvesting challenge. “The seed was dry and mature but on a straight combining situation, if there was any kochia at the same time, it made harvesting quite difficult until the field received a Reglone application or, in the case of this year, a conveniently timed frost.”
The hybrid brown mustard variety offers a better disease package than open pollinated varieties, with resistance to 2a white rust. Like its conventional counterparts, it has no herbicide-tolerance (though a non-GMO herbicide-tolerance trait is high on Sask Mustard’s research wish list). The hybrid is lower in erucic acid than conventional varieties, which is “pretty significant for the European market,” Mitzel points out.
While its oil content is a little higher than conventional varieties, which, notably, some crushers don’t want, its milling characteristics are very similar to brown mustard varieties already on the market. That’s important, since buyers need milling consistency regardless of the variety.
That said, Dewar’s big hope is that AAC Brown 18 proves notably different from conventional mustards. To that end, he has sent 400 pounds of the hybrid brown mustard to Wisconsin Spice so it can do further analysis on quality parameters, especially the glucosinolates, which influence mustard’s spiciness.
“What we want to see is strong market uptake, where buyers and processors are clamouring to get (AAC Brown 18). So far, that hasn’t happened. We’re hoping it has milling characteristics that would keep it exclusive so we have a marketing advantage, but we don’t know yet,” he says.
If, in an ideal world, a price premium for the new hybrid brown mustard followed, it could fundamentally change the economics of mustard production. Though happy with the yield bonus he achieved from the hybrid this year, Dewar says farmers are expressing more concern over commodity prices than productivity.
“The whole culture in primary production has been to improve our economic standing by increasing production. No other industry tries to produce its way out of economic challenge. It’s great to grow varieties that yield more, farmers are very attracted to that, but we have to continue to differentiate our products on the basis of elite qualities to stay competitive in the world market. Escalating production costs will need to be met with a better and consistent return for our product.”
Sask Mustard is currently working with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture on field trials to determine the hybrid’s optimum seeding rate and nitrogen fertilizer rate. Preliminary data suggests AAC Brown 18’s optimum seeding rate is four to six pounds per acre, depending on how thick a stand a grower prefers. The data also suggests that, for best results, the hybrid requires 100 to 120 pounds of available nitrogen.
The new hybrid’s seed availability was limited in 2020 but will be more widely available for planting in 2021.