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The Road To 100-Bushel Canola

In trials, waiting just five to six days to swath (at 50 to 60 per cent seed colour change versus 30 per cent) accounted for a 1.5-bushel yield bump. “It’s one of the few times doing nothing can make you money.”

The Prairie-wide canola average yield has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, going from 19.6 bushels per acre to 34.7 bushels. That’s astounding by any measure, but an average of 34.7 bushels per acre means Canada will still fall short of its goal of 15 million tonnes of production by 2015 unless yields keep leaping higher.

“To reach this goal, we’re going to need 17 million acres that average 39 bushels per acre,” says Tim Gardner, market development specialist for Bayer CropScience. His company and others in the canola value chain recognize that increased production is more likely to come from increased yield than from more acres seeded to the crop. “We know we’re close to the maximum acres being seeded,” he says, meaning the focus is on what can be done to improve overall yields.

Speaking at Agri-Trend Agrology’s Farm Forum in November, Gardner outlined how he sees canola yields increasing in the short-and long-term. “Seventy, 80 and 90 bushels per acre already happen out there now. Many say they’re disappointed if they don’t get 50 to the acre,” he says. The goal then is to get those top numbers happening more often, on more fields. Gardner says it will happen by focusing on four areas: harvest losses, sclerotinia tolerance and other disease resistance, faster breeding advancements due to a mapped canola genome, and breeding advancements through access to excellent germplasm.

ADDING UP THE BUSHELS

So how will 100 bushels per acre happen? Gardner uses 70 bushels as a baseline, as it is currently possible in peak areas of many farmers’ fields.

“Shattering and pod losses at harvest account for anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of yield loss,” Gardner says, for an average of 15 per cent. Straight cutting can save some of these losses, but he doesn’t want you to sell the swather just yet. The biggest gains are still made in swathing at the optimal time, he says. In trials, waiting just five to six days to swath (at 50 to 60 per cent seed colour change versus 30 per cent) accounted for a 1.5-bushel yield “bump,” he says. “It’s one of the few times doing nothing can make you money.”

Harvest timing is only part of the equation. Bayer CropScience is working on a physiological change to new varieties that feature a stronger pod attachment to further improve pod and seed retention. Gardner says this trait may be launched by 2012 or 2013.

Total yield bump due to harvest management: 11 bushels (70 bushels x 15 per cent.) That brings yield potential to 81 bushels per acre.

DISEASE MANAGEMENT

Sclerotinia, blackleg and clubroot all threaten the canola crop to varying degrees. Clubroot is localized but very serious, and new races of blackleg are rendering former MR ratings useless in the field.

“Sclerotinia is a real yield robber,” Gardner says. The rule of thumb is that one per cent of sclerotinia infection robs 0.5 per cent of yield. The average infection rate across the prairies is 12 per cent, accounting for a theoretical loss of six per cent of the canola crop per year. At least one tolerant variety has been released already, from Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Bayer plans to add to that number in the coming years. Gardner expects the release of a tolerant — not resistant — variety in 2012. Bayer’s variety will offer multi-gene sclerotinia tolerance bred into its InVigor lines. “Fungicide will still be required for (disease) resistance management and yield protection,” he says.

Both blackleg and clubroot tolerant varieties are in the works, and Bayer hopes to launch new lines with multi-gene tolerance. All new lines will still offer the yields InVigor varieties are known for. “We refuse to go backwards on yield,” Gardner says, adding that if that means it takes a year or two more to release a variety so be it.

—TIM GARDNER

Built in protection against blackleg and clubroot won’t really add yield, Gardner says, however it will protect what’s there. Any yield gain will be made in sclerotinia tolerance only.

Total yield bump due to disease management: 5 bushels (81 bushels x 6 per cent) = 86 bushels per acre.

GENOME MAP OF THE CANOLA PLANT

The last two leaps in yield potential come from understanding of and access to genetics. Bayer CropScience recently mapped the entire canola genome, a feat Gardner says will allow more rapid progress when building in new traits or more yield.

“Now we can look at and understand where traits are in the genome and where to add them. This saves time because we have the entire roadmap. It’s easier to get where you need to go when you have a map,” Gardner says.

He’s confident that access to this genomic roadmap will add five per cent more yield over the next five years.

Total yield bump due to genome mapping: 4 bushels (86 bushels x 5 per cent) = 90 bushels per acre.

BUILDING ON EXISTING YIELDS

Even without a mapped genome, Gardner says that if the past six years is any indication, a five to 10 per cent yield increase through general breeding advancements is all but guaranteed. “In 2003 we launched 5020, now the check in plots. In 2009, we had lines that hit the 140 per cent of check mark,” he says. Drawing on the existing gene pool, Gardner says that another 10 per cent over the next five to 10 years is achievable. “I’m comfortable we can do this again.”

Total yield bump due to breeding advancements: 9 bushels (90 bushels x 10 per cent) = 99 bushels per acre.

“There’s no doubt that these gains will be made through genetic improvements,” he says. “Right now, 100 bushels an acre might just be a blip on the yield monitor, but in five years we might see it on a field scale. In 10 years, it could be the average over the entire farm. It’s genetics that will get us there.”

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor with Grainews. She’s based in Lumsden, Sask. Email her at [email protected]

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