Marcus Weidler is confident that the canola industry can meet the lofty production goals set out by the Canola Council of Canada. It’s a long way from the 2014 average Canadian canola yield of 34.4 bushels per acre to 52 bu./ac. by 2025.
“Yeah, it’s ambitious,” said Weidler, vice president of seed operations for Bayer Crop Science. “But I have full trust in both the innovations that we can bring to the table as an industry, but also in the ability of the growers to adapt and to really use the full potential of the innovation we bring to the growers in the next couple of years.”
Yields on farms have dramatically increased in the last decade, he said. Canola is now grown in more areas than before. Plus, seed companies are introducing new traits, he added.
Canola breeders and farmers alike still face challenges from the usual suspects, he said — namely disease and pests.
“But at the moment I’m pretty confident that we have all the tools that are required to deal with those challenges,” Weidler said.
The biggest stumbling block canola breeders face is the same one farmers have struggled with for centuries — unpredictable weather. Western Canada has seen unusually wet weather for the last 10 years, he said. The question now is whether that pattern will persist or fall back to the long-term average, presenting farmers with more drought conditions.
Asked how canola breeders deal with weather unknowns, Weidler said the introduction of hybrids several years ago helped. Hybrids deal with abiotic stress better, he explained.
The other aspect is a focus on both yield and yield stability.
“How will this product behave under different environmental conditions? Is this product stable enough from the yield perspective,” Weidler said.
For example, if a potential variety yielded 150 per cent under optimum conditions, but only 65 per cent when conditions were a little off, Bayer wouldn’t introduce that product to farmers’ fields, he explained.
Weidler is most excited about the pod-shattering resistance trait in Bayer’s new variety, L140P. It should enable growers to straight-cut canola and allow them to wait and plan harvest operations, he explained, rather than trying to harvest 10,000 acres in two days. Less pod-shattering should also mean fewer volunteers the following year.
Concerns beyond the farmgate
But mercurial weather isn’t the only big problem the canola industry faces.
How the industry will get that much grain out of the country is a bit of a conundrum. Not too many people would be happy with a bumper crop if they can’t get it to key customers, Weidler said.
Regulatory systems in the European Union and China are also a “major question mark,” Weidler said. “It’s a wild card there because you don’t know how long it will take you to get innovation to the marketplace because of this uncertainty.”
Weidler says he doesn’t have a silver bullet for regulatory problems. “But we’ll have to find some way to come back from an emotionally-based regulatory approval to a science and fact-based regulatory approval.”