Canola acres on the rise in Ontario

Canola acres finally rebounded in Ontario this spring after several years of Swede midge struggles.

Provincial acres will probably be less than 40,000, but growers are feeling more optimistic about the crop, said Meghan Moran, a canola and edible bean specialist with the Ontario agriculture ministry.

Last year, Ontario farmers seeded about 30,000 acres.

“They (producers) are typically planting canola in pockets where they haven’t had canola in recent years,” Moran said.

“I think there is some new land being cleared, as well.”

Canola is grabbing acres in places like Bruce County as producers seek another cash crop for their rotation.

“It’s a profitable crop in Ontario. We have some of the highest yields in the country,” Moran said.

The average canola yield in the province was 46 bushels per acre last year, and a few producers recorded significantly higher yields.

“We had a bunch in that 70 to 80 range, and some whole farm averages north of 50 … or 60,” said Craig Reid, president of the Ontario Canola Growers Association.

“That kind of (yield) gets people excited. Yield pays the bills.”

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Soybeans are the dominant oilseed in Ontario, but they can be challenging to grow in northern parts of the province. As well, growers may need another crop in their system.

“I like what it (canola) can do (for) a rotation,” said Reid, who farms near Hanover.

“They (canola and soy) can co-exist in the same rotation. It lengthens the rotation and makes the entire system agronomically sound.”

However, it may take time for the crop to fully recover in Ontario.

The province’s farmers once planted 80,000 acres of canola, but it crashed in recent years when Swede midge, a pest that thrives on crucifer crops, became uncontrollable in the Temiskaming region north of Sudbury in northern Ontario.

Females lay eggs in the meristems, or growing points, of canola plants. The larvae from those eggs feed on the plant and can cause:

•    twisted or distorted young shoots

•    misshapen buds in bud cluster

•    abnormal flower development

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Adult Swede midge emerge from soil pupae in the spring in the Temiskaming area and “overwhelm young canola plants,” the Ontario Canola Growers said in a newsletter.

Many canola growers in the region abandoned the crop because Swede midge cut yields in half. Acreage dropped from 30,000 to basically nothing last year.

Swede midge can cause headaches in other parts of Ontario, but the pest is under control compared to Temiskaming.

Reid said there’s no silver bullet. A potential insecticide is unlikely to come to market because it might hurt bees.

“We’re back to incremental gains through crop management (and) planting dates,” he said.

Agriculture Canada scientists are monitoring Swede midge in Western Canada because it has been found in northeastern Saskatchewan and other parts of the Prairies since 2007. However, the species of Swede midge detected in Saskatchewan seems to emerge later than the one in Ontario, which might explain why it hasn’t become a problem in prairie canola crops.

“There seems to be only time in northeastern Saskatchewan for only two generations to occur,” said Lars Andreassen, a research associate with Agriculture Canada.

“There’s more to it than different climates. We also have different (Swede midge) genetics in Saskatchewan.”

Fewer replications reduce the likelihood of a population explosion during the summer and limit the number of eggs laid in the soil before winter.

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Contact robert.arnason@producer.com