Special Report: Canola a rising star in the South
COLBERT, Ga. — The familiar sight of a row crop could be seen from Russ Moon’s half ton as he turned off the road into a field.
Orderly rows stretched a kilometre or more to the southeast, with lush green plants poking out of red soil.
The plants appeared to be soybeans from the field entrance, but from 10 metres it became obvious that the leaf shape wasn’t right for beans.
The crop growing in those rows was canola.
“We’re putting it on 23 inch (spacing). A lot of guys around are doing it on 30 inch,” said Moon, who has been growing canola for five years on his farm 30 km northeast of Athens, Georgia.
Moon and 40 other canola growers near Athens have found that seeding canola with a planter cuts seed cost and doesn’t reduce yield.
“I think we’ve all learned together. We started out planting 4.5 pounds (of seed) per acre. That was drilling it,” said Moon, who grows 400 acres of winter canola under contract for an oilseed processing company in Bowersville, Ga.
“Now we’ve learned that we can do a better job at two lb. per acre in rows.”
Moon accidently reduced the canola seeding rate on his planter several years ago to 1.7 lb. per acre, and a crop consultant told him to re-seed.
“But we went with it instead of replanting,” Moon said, standing between the rows of this year’s crop on a sunny, 13 C morning in mid-November.
“I think that year we ended right at 55 bushels per acre. That proved to us that … we can pull those seeding rates down and yields are just as good.”
Most canola growers in Georgia, South Carolina and other southeastern states have learned similar lessons. Canola has become a row crop in the region, much like cotton and soybeans.
Andrew Moore, who farms near Resaca, Ga., 120 km northwest of Atlanta, said his family used to grow winter canola 20 years ago. They switched to a planter from a seed drill when they returned to the crop in the late 2000s.
“What’s really changed from the late ’80s to early ’90s is production practices, reduced seeding rates. We opened up the row,” said Moore, who knows of a Tennessee canola producer who had 72 bu. yields last year. “We’re going 15, 20 or 30 inch rows.”
Warm, humid weather when the crop is blooming in spring means sclerotinia can be a major problem for Georgia’s canola growers.
Moon said more space between the rows eases sclerotinia pressure because the disease flourishes under a heavy crop canopy.
Allan Calder, who farms near Letellier, Man., has seeded canola with a planter since 2004. He said it reduces seed cost and increases the consistency of crop development during the growing season.
“We get more precise positioning of the seed in the ground. The spacing is very even. We’re achieving about 1.3 inches apart in a row,” he said.
“The canola plants look like they are corn or sunflowers. They’re very, very uniform…. Throughout the year all your other timing factors are a lot easier to judge.”
Canola plants emerge more quickly when seeded with a planter, Calder said.
“We really like the even emergence,” he said.
“We’ve got pictures of canola only in the ground for four and five days and it was up.”
Calder’s son, Jeff, and business partner, Kerry Cadieux, have developed an enterprise around seeding canola with a planter. They sell a seeding disk for canola that can be used in John Deere planters.
“(They have) a lot of customers in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama … where the guys are putting in winter canola,” Calder said.
Anastasia Kubinec, Manitoba Agriculture’s oilseed specialist, said she knows of only a few Canadian farmers who are using planters to seed canola.
Kubinec said canola researchers and agronomists are evaluating the merits of planters, but she remains skeptical.
“The idea has been floating around a couple of years,” she said.
“I know anecdotally … they (researchers) haven’t found any economic benefits in using the planters versus seeding with the normal air drill.”
Planters do reduce seed costs, but there are other agronomic considerations, she said. For example, weeds can thrive when there is more space between canola plants.
“Have you had to go on there and apply another herbicide application to control those weeds?”
Calder’s 10 years of experience have convinced him that canola can be a successful row crop in Canada.
In 2004, he conducted an experiment in which one half of a canola field was seeded with a planter and the other half with a drill.
“The air seeder side yielded 40.5 bu. per acre. The planter side was 47,” Calder said. “We feel we’re getting (yields) as good as, or better than, (an air seeder).”