Open pollinated canola isn’t out of the picture, yet. After being largely choked out by the shadow of higher-yielding hybrids, several open pollinated (OP) canola varieties continue to play an important part in Western Canadian crop rotations.
Overall it is a lower risk canola option, say producers and seed growers such as Robin Fenton of Tisdale, Sask. Hybrid canolas, with the promise of big yields, are great provided all the stars line up during the growing season. With good moisture and top fertility, for example, they can produce top yields.
“There are several things about open pollinated canola that growers still like,” says Fenton, who operates Fenton Seed Farm with his father, Duff, and family members. “Perhaps first is the economics. Second, several varieties feature early maturity. And third, they can do well under less than ideal growing conditions.”
You can’t throw OP canola seed on gravel and forget about it, but if producers have fields with poorer quality soil, drier growing conditions, or chose a more basic fertility package, OP canola varieties can be economical.
“If you have a field of open pollinated canola next to a hybrid canola and you have a drier year with less than ideal conditions, you might not see any yield difference between the two,” says Fenton. “If you have good land, and great growing conditions, both types will do well but the hybrid can yield up to 10 to 15 per cent more.
“On the other hand, the OP may yield 10 per cent less, but then often your input costs are lower, so it does pencil out.” OP varieties account for 20 to 30 per cent of canola acres in Western Canada, with hybrids taking up the rest.
LOWER SEED COSTS
One important aspect of OP canola that attracts producers is reduced seed costs. Seed prices will vary depending on variety, but Fenton says OP varieties can be nearly half the cost of a hybrid. “You can buy a newer OP variety for about $3.60 per bushel, whereas some of the top hybrids are close to $8 per bushel,” he says.
Those interviewed for this month’s Farmer Panel on OP canola production (see page 3) say their seeding rates vary from 4.5 to 5.5 pounds per acre. Based on the general pricing noted above, choice of seed can make a difference of $3,000 to $4,000 for inputs on a 160-acre field.
Early maturity is another important trait in select OP varieties, says Fenton. This year for example, he sold quite a bit of Café canola seed (an OP Roundup Ready variety from SeCan) to growers in the Peace River Region. It was a cold, wet spring in some areas, farmers were delayed with seeding, and they were looking for an early maturing variety.
“We have a couple varieties, such as Café, that hybrids can’t touch from an early maturity standpoint,” says Fenton. “And if you have a late spring, OPs can be a viable option.”
Lower fertility costs are another factor growers consider. They weigh the risk of the cost of supplying fertilizer to produce a 45-