Fine-tuning fertilizer package | Seed, equipment technology, and improved agronomic practices are poised to boost yields
CALGARY — Maurice Delage has set identical target yields for wheat, peas and canola next year on his farm near Indian Head, Sask.
He expects all three crops to average 65 bushels per acre.
His canola looks like it will shatter the 60 bu. target he established for this year. It was averaging 67 bu. per acre with 75 percent of the crop harvested.
That is partially the result of exceptional growing conditions, but Delage said a lot has to do with new seed technology, better agronomic practices and state-of-the-art equipment.
“It’s a whole bunch of developments that have all come together,” he said.
It all began with the commercialization of genetically modified canola in 1995.
Delage played a role in that development as Canadian president of Hoechst AG, a German company that created Liberty Link canola in conjunction with Agriculture Canada.
There had previously been no broadleaf weed control for the crop. The only good herbicide farmers had at their disposal had to be incorporated into the soil, which disturbed the seed bed and made it hard to get a good stand of canola.
The second major breakthrough was the development of hybrids, which provided a “quantum leap” forward for the crop and is largely responsible for today’s astonishing yields.
“I can tell you that there are many, many growers that are achieving 50 and 60 bu. canola yields and some of them will be breaking 70 bu. this year,” said Delage.
It’s not just about the germplasm, he said. It’s also about how it is used.
Typical fertilizer rates on his farm are 130 pounds of nitrogen, 26 lb. of sulfur, 35 lb. of phosphate and 10 lb. of potassium per acre.
“Hybrids are like a thoroughbred. You’ve got to feed them,” he said.
“It’s not just the genetics. There’s another level of potential there that has to do with how much input they’re prepared to take.”
Disease control is another key. Delage estimates fungicide use on canola this year increased by 50 percent over the previous year because farmers didn’t want to contend with the same sclerotinia problems they had to deal with in 2012.
He also gives credit to the latest seeding equipment that allows growers to plant canola 13 millimetres deep in the ground and have it emerge in seven days.
However, it’s the new hybrids that are providing the biggest yield boost. Delage field-tested two new varieties this year.
“One that we’re really, really high on for next year is probably going to be a six to eight percent yield increase year-over-year,” he said.
“That’s a big bump. Every two to three years you can find another hybrid that can do that for you.”
An optimal fertility package might allow him to get a 10 bu. per acre increase over this year’s varieties with the new hybrid.
“That’s what you do. You take the technology and you adapt it to your farm as opposed to having somebody else tell you what you need to be doing,” said Delage.
He said hybrids are the biggest advantage canola has over soybeans, and the canola industry is just scratching the surface.
Corn hybrids have been around since the 1940s, compared to only the last 10 years for canola. There is a big opportunity to keep developing better inbred parent lines.
Delage is confident farmers will be averaging 70 to 80 bu. per acre in the next 10 to 20 years.
He said the outlook for wheat is grim by comparison. Little breeding advancement has been made in decades, which means yield improvements have been driven by agronomy rather than germplasm.
“I can get almost the same yields from varieties that are now 20 years old that I can from the newest varieties,” said Delage.
“It has been very disappointing, in my opinion, in terms of where plant breeding has taken us over the last three years.”
He is encouraged by recent announcements of private sector investment in the crop in Western Canada.
“(Wheat yields) need to move up another 25 to 30 percent,” he said.
“At the moment we grow wheat because it’s an important rotational crop.”