With one southern Alberta farmer this year hitting a 74-bushel yield average on 320 acres of InVigor canola, the seemingly lofty challenge of hitting a 100-bushel yield in Western Canada sometime over the next three years may indeed be possible.
The farmer we’ll refer to as Norman Napus — he asked not to be identified lest he sounded like he was bragging — says in his view 100 bushels “is possible” but figures it will take a combination of good management, good luck “and a whole pile of N fertilizer,” to reach the three-digit yield number consistently on a field.
“This 74-bushel yield was the highest we’ve ever seen on our farm, although we did have a few mile-long swaths this year producing 80-bushel yields,” says Napus. “Other years we’ve hit an average high of 64 bushels, but even on those fields the yield ranged from 40 to 80 bushels to give you that 60-bushel average. So if you’re looking for a 100-bushel average, the range will likely be 80 to 120 bushels. I believe a 100-bushel yield is possible, but odds are it’s going to be tough.”
Napus says canola has great yield potential, but it needs the nutrition. On his 74-bushel crop he applied a total of 175 pounds of nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorus and 10 pounds of sulphur per ace. “I didn’t really target a yield, I just apply nitrogen until I get this heaving feeling in the pit of my stomach, in terms of input costs, and then I quit,” Napus half joked. “In my view with canola, the sky is the limit, potential-wise, so when it comes to input costs you just go with what your stomach can handle.”
Napus says a couple of factors he feels which oddly enough contributed to the high yield — a bit of moisture stress and plenty of heat. “We had timely rainfall this summer which supported the crop, but there were also a couple drier periods which makes the canola put down roots,” he says. “The root system was there, we had enough moisture, and we had some good warm stretches which really helped the crop grow.”
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Here’s the program Napus followed to produce that high-yielding crop.
This particular field was seeded May 4, with good seedbed moisture. The crop was seeded with a Bourgault PHD (paralink hoe drill) into standing wheat stubble. He seeded Invigor L252 at a rate of five pounds per acre. A few days prior to seeding he float applied about 75 pounds of nitrogen. At time of seeding, he put together a dry-formulation fertilizer blend that included 100 pounds of nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorus and 10 pounds of sulphur. About one-quarter of that blend was applied in the seed row, and the rest of the blend was applied by mid-row banders.
The Bourgault drill was set at 10-inch row spacing, the drill has a an opener with a two-inch spread tips.
For weed control, the field received a broadcast application of glyphosate prior to seeding, and received two applications of Liberty herbicide in-crop. The first treatment was at 1.35 litre/acre rate, and the second at 1.1 litre per acre was also tank mixed with DuPont’s grassy-weed product, Assure.
For other pests, along with the standard treated seed, the crop was also sprayed with Proline fungicide, primarily to control sclerotinia, as well as with Matador insecticide mostly for lygus bug control. Both products were applied at the recommended stage — about 30 per cent flower.
“And that was about it,” says Napus. “We made the usual treatments and then just waited. By late August the crop was ready for swathing and combined in September. It was a strange year in some respects. At times it was dry, but then we eventually got the moisture. I think canola usually grows better when it has a bit of stress — it helps it to put down roots.”
Although he has no target yield in mind, Napus says he plans to follow the same program in 2016. As it was time for equipment change, he’ll be seeding with a Seed Hawk, paired row drill on 12-inch spacings. He says he’ll probably float apply nitrogen at seeding again in 2016, “because it is easy”, but he also considering using a delayed-release nitrogen product such as Agrium’s ESN.
Nutrient fact of life
Supplying the crop with the nutrients it needs is key, no matter what the yield target, says Ross McKenzie, a long-time Alberta research scientist, who as a consultant has provided advice to Norman Napus over the years.
McKenzie says just the cold hard facts of science shows a 50-bushel canola crop, for example, is going to need 140 to 150 pounds of nitrogen, 50 to 60 pounds of phosphorus, 95 to 120 pounds of potassium and 25 to 30 pound of sulphur (the NPKS).
“To achieve that yield those basic nutrients need to be there,” says McKenzie. “And on most farms it is combination of what’s available in the soil as well as the added fertilizer blend. That’s why it is always recommended to start out with a soil test analysis — know what is available in the soil and then add from there.”
McKenzie says as producers begin targeting higher yields, nutrient requirements increase accordingly. A 75-bushel crop is going to need 210 to 225 pounds of N, 75 to 85 pounds of P, 140 to 160 pounds of K, and 35 to 40 pounds of S.
Targeting a 100-bushel yield is going to require about 300 pounds of N, 115 pounds of P, 200 pounds of K and 55 pounds of S.
McKenzie says the challenge with the exceptionally high yields will be finding ways to apply enough product — particularly nitrogen — without damaging the crop. He says applying a controlled-release nitrogen product such as ESN maybe an option. Research shows as much as 80 to 90 even 100 pounds of ESN can be applied in-row with the seed without causing seedling damage. McKenzie also says foliar treatments of macro- and micro-nutrients, sometimes used in-crop, has limited benefit. He says it is difficult to get sufficient plant uptake of a foliar-applied nutrient particularly if the plant has a large requirement for that nutrient.