You can still find canola producers who throw cold water on the assertion that tight rotations are increasing the risk of disease.
It’s a little like the tobacco lobby, which for years claimed there was insufficient proof to conclusively show whether cigarettes cause cancer.
In the case of cigarettes and cancer, there’s also the issue of second hand smoke. Similarly, with plant disease, tight rotations might mean collateral damage to neighbouring farms and the entire industry.
You can find producers who claim that growing canola on canola on canola is sustainable and doesn’t lead to reduced yields. You can also find people who have smoked their entire life and live to be 90. Biology isn’t always clear cut.
Tobacco is highly regulated. Advertising is restricted and the packages are emblazoned with health warnings.
With canola, in an attempt to stop the spread of clubroot in regions where it has been detected, government agrologists recommend proactive management strategies. This means that susceptible crops, including clubroot resistant varieties, should not be seeded more than once every four years.
Yet, the crop insurance programs administered and financially supported by provincial governments provide the same yield coverage and charge the same premiums whether you follow recommended rotations or whether your rotation is canola- snow- canola.
Crop insurance could and should be used to discourage seeding the same crop on the same ground in consecutive years. This should apply to every crop, not just canola, but canola is the most prevalent crop and the one where rotational considerations are most often sacrificed for economic reasons.
In the early 2000s, chickpea acreage exploded in parts of southern Saskatchewan. For a year or two, sizable returns were generated at a time when other crops were not profitable.
Despite serious problems with ascochyta blight, there was an economic incentive to grow as many acres of chickpeas as possible. Saskatchewan Crop Insurance established coverage for chickpeas in the dry regions of Saskatchewan, but only if rotations were one in every four years.
That rotational restriction still exists, despite new varieties with better ascochyta resistance, many new fungicides to help control the disease and the proliferation of high clearance sprayers to apply fungicides in a timely manner. So crop insurance can be used as a tool to encourage proper rotations; the precedent is established.
Several options exist.
In the case of Saskatchewan chickpeas, insurance is denied if you don’t follow a long rotation. With canola, seeding the crop every second year is a common practice on many farms, so it’s perhaps most reasonable to clamp down on producers who may be tempted to seed canola on canola stubble.
If crop insurance and its political masters don’t have the courage to deny insurance on those acres, they could at least remove the government support and let the producer pay the full premium.
Some producers say crop insurance shouldn’t be used as a policy tool, or they want irrefutable proof of the harm before governments take such a step.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Governments shouldn’t be supporting agronomic practices that they advise against.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.