Don’t underestimate the potential of OPs to yield as high as hybrid lines, especially when growing conditions are less than ideal.

“I like the open pollinated (varieties) because of the lower seed costs and also they have a better fit on fields that may not have the same yield potential as other land.”

—Bob Gibbons

Keeping an open pollinated (OP) canola variety in rotation makes good economic sense to the canola growers interviewed for this month’s farm panel. Seed costs can be 20, 30, even close to 50 per cent cheaper than hybrid canola varieties, and overall, your input costs are a little lower. Depending on variety and growing conditions, you might be targeting yields in the 30-to 45-bushel-per-acre range, rather than 45 to 55 bushels or higher for hybrids.

It is all part of reducing risk, say growers. Your yields may not be quite as high, yet you don’t have the same input costs at stake. These growers routinely plant anywhere from 10 to 100 per cent of their canola acres to OP varieties.

Seed companies and marketers point out however that the dozen or so OP varieties on the market can’t be abused and ignored. Don’t just view them as a last chance option if you can’t find the hybrid you want. With proper seeding practices and adequate nutrients and moisture, some of the newer, leading OP varieties can give their higher priced hybrid cousins a run for their money. Hybrids will continue to dominate the Western Canadian canola market, but OP varieties are expected to continue to have a fit on 20 to 30 per cent of the canola acres.

Here is what this month’s producers had to say:

DARREL HEDMAN Tisdale, Sask.

About 80 per cent of the canola acres on Darrel Hedman’s 5,000-acre grain and oilseed farm are seeded to OP canola varieties each year.

Cost is the one main reason, says Hedman, who has grown SP Banner canola for several years. It is a Roundup Ready Argentine variety owned by Proven Seed. “We seed with a 50-foot John Deere press drill, so we have to keep the seeding rate around 5.5 pounds per acre,” says Hedman. “By growing an OP canola, our seeding costs are $1 or more per pound less than with a hybrid variety. “

Hedman grows about 1,600 acres of canola and says he finds SP Banner a very consistent variety. “It swaths nicely and it has very even maturity, so we have very little green seed and all around it is a very consistent crop. With this variety, you know when you seed it what you’re going to get at harvest.”

Ideally Hedman likes to have the canola seeded between May 6 and 10. His nutrient package includes 100 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of sulphur and 30 pounds of phosphorous per acre.

“Yieldwise, we can usually count on a 30 to 33 bushel crop, which is pretty decent,” he says. “I have tried side-by-side comparisons with hybrids in the past, and I only see a one to two bushel difference, which doesn’t offset the extra cost of hybrids.”

BOB GIBBON Balcarres, Sask.

About 10 per cent of the 5,000 acres of canola Bob Gibbons grows on his farm east of Regina is devoted to OP canola varieties. In 2008, for OP varieties he grew mostly Brett Young’s 997 RR along with some Canterra 1818 RR. On the hybrid side, he grew about 2,500 acres of Cargill’s specialty canola varieties, along with Nexera, InVigor and some Clearfield.

“I like the open pollinated because of the lower seed costs and also they have a better fit on fields that may not have the same yield potential as other land,” he says. “Yield trials shows the hybrids with 15 to 20 per cent more yield, yet I have seen situations where the open pollinated varieties have just as high if not higher yield. A lot depends on moisture.”

In 2008, because of growing season conditions that included some moisture stress in June, spring frost, and cutworm damage, Gibbons’ yields varied widely. Some of his OP canola yielded better than the hybrid lines. “If you have ideal conditions and two fields side by side, the hybrid will yield about 60 bushels per acre, whereas the open pollinated might be about 50 bushels per acre,” he says. “However if you have a season where there is only enough moisture for a 40 bushel crop, then both types will be pretty even.”

With a smaller seed size among OP varieties, he has the option of reducing the seeding rate to about 4.25 per acre and still get a decent stand. Along with seed he puts down between 90 and 115 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of phosphorous, 20 pounds of potash and 40 pounds of sulphur. He also treated seed with Jump Start phosphate inoculant to improve phosphorous uptake. “We do an in-crop treatment with glyphosate, and because the open pollinated varieties aren’t quite as vigorous as the hybrid varieties we are careful with the timing of the herbicide,” he says.

Gibbons says the OP varieties are easy to swath, have even maturity and very little green seed issues. He plans to include 10 to 15 per cent of open pollinated canola varieties in his rotation for 2009.

BERNARD SCHULTZ Kuroki, Sask.

Growing an OP canola variety makes for an “affordable” oilseed for Bernard Schultz, who runs a mixed farm in east central Saskatchewan. “I look at the open pollinated varieties in that $3-to $4-per-pound range for seed and that is affordable,” says Schultz, who crops about 2,000 acres of wheat, barley, canola, oats and peas.

“And with a hybrid, it doesn’t work if you want to reduce your fertility rate. With those seed costs you have to keep fertilizer rates up. With an open pollinated, I won’t use the word minimal rate, but I’ll say you can use an affordable rate of fertilizer and get an acceptable yield.”

Schultz includes about 500 acres of summerfallow in his cropping rotation, so on any given year he seeds about 1,500 acres. Of that, between 300 to 400 acres are seeded to an OP canola. The last few years he has been impressed with Secan’s Rugby Roundup Ready variety, which he expects to seed again in 2009.

With affordable input costs and reasonable growing conditions, he can expect a 30 to 35 bushel per acre yield. In drier years, it can be down to about 25 bushels per acre, and on summerfallow in better years, it can yield around 40 bushels per acre.

“I look at growing the open pollinated canola as being cost conscious. I don’t need to make a million bucks, but I don’t want to go broke either,” Schultz says.

STAN JEEVES Wolseley, Sask.

Stan Jeeves has been growing two types of Canterra canola for the past two or three years. He grows about 400 acres of canola, with about two-thirds seeded to Canterra 1845 RR hybrid and one third to Canterra 1818 RR.

“I like to grow two types just to spread the risk,” says Jeeves. “It doesn’t happen often but the odd time you can run into a poor seed lot, so this way I reduce my risk.”

He grows OPs because of reduced seed cost and because it has been a good performer for him. “In our experience it may be only one or two bushels per acre behind the hybrid.”

He chooses the Roundup Ready system because he finds it to be more economical. “We are mainly a livestock operation, so all our manure goes back on the land. We also feed cattle on the fields over winter, which can result in several weed flushes during the growing season,” he says. “Because of that, we need to make two herbicide treatments during the season and the cost of that tips the balance in favour of the Roundup Ready system.”

Jeeves shallow seeds canola at five to 5.5 pounds per acre. He puts on about 85 pounds of nitrogen in the form of anhydrous ammonia, and at seeding he puts down another 20 to 25 pounds of phosphorous with JumpStart and about 10 pounds of sulphur. By using JumpStart, a phosphate inoculant, that promotes greater phosphate use efficiency, Jeeves estimates he can reduce added phosphate by about 10 pounds per acre.

“The open pollinated variety this year averaged between 32 and 35 bushels per acre, while the hybrid averaged between 35 and 38 bushels per acre,” says Jeeves. “And part of that is due to the growing season. Last year we had better conditions and yields were closer to 50 bushels per acre. Whatever shortfall there may be in yield, is offset by the reduced seed cost, and overall growing the open pollinated variety helps to spread risk.”

Lee Hart is field editor of Grainews, based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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