Canola goal requires changes

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — It’s a lofty goal, but farmers and the rest of the canola industry seem confident that prairie production can increase by 40 percent by 2025.

However, it’s going to take almost flawless execution in improving varieties, production and transportation infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, persuading every farmer to customize his production to get the most out of every acre, said attendees at the Canola Council of Canada’s convention held in San Antonio Feb. 25-27.

“A lot of farmers are getting there now. It’s to get everybody there now, (that’s the challenge),” Brett Halstead, vice-president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said in an interview during the convention.

The canola council’s new target of producing 26 million tonnes of canola per year relies on a similar acreage to that grown by farmers in recent years but a radical increase in average yields from today’s 34 bushels per acre to 52 bu. per acre.

“I think we can get there, for sure,” Manitoba Canola Growers Association president Ed Rempel said in an interview.

However, a host of production issues must be solved before that potential can be realized, he said.

For instance, drainage in many parts of Manitoba is poor, which sometimes leaves farmers unable to farm thousands of acres of land. Average yields won’t reach the 52 bu. per acre goal if basic problems like that aren’t solved.

The industry’s confidence in reaching this goal appears to come from the raw genetic potential that can be packed into seeds, the potential of improving agronomic practices farmer-by-farmer and the council’s ability to set aggressive targets and meet them.

Canola council president Patti Miller said the key will be getting each farmer to maximize his yields by using the best possible agronomic practices for his unique land base.

“We believe that if we can fine-tune our agronomic practices and learn how to maximize yields under every type of growing condition, we can achieve a substantial increase in canola production without expanding canola acres very much,” she told the convention.

Farmers have tightened rotations in recent years and increased acreage in pursuit of canola’s profitability. As a result, the new canola production goals involve only a marginal increase in prairie canola acreage to 22 million, and most of that will come from new varieties that allow canola to be grown in areas where it has seldom been seen previously.

It means almost all gains in production will have to come from per-acre yield improvements.

“There’s still plenty of opportunity to increase the productivity of every canola acre,” said Miller.

“You will see much more emphasis on improving tech transfer to make research results more useful and relevant to the grower.”

Agronomy can make up about half the yield gains, with harvest loss reduction, better fertility management, pest control and improved plant establishment each offering a few bushels per acre.

The rest will come from more productive varieties, which Dave Dzisiak of Dow AgroSciences is confident companies can achieve.

“I think there’s great potential to come up with better hybrids with better parent lines and really mine the diversity around the world, and that will be a big part in how we further drive the average yield up across Western Canada,” Dzisiak said in an interview.

“There’s a lot of genetic diversity across the world that really hasn’t been put to work yet.”

Increasing to 52 bu. per acre will require about eight bu. per acre in genetic improvements, but Dzisiak said that wouldn’t break with canola’s productivity trends.

“It wasn’t that long ago when our average yield was in the mid-20s per acre,” he said.

Miller said the canola industry learned from its goals of producing seven million tonnes per year of canola by 2007 and 15 million by 2015, which were surpassed early, that chasing new records can work.

“Are we reaching the limits of our potential?” said Miller.

“Our industry has a history of setting bold targets and then achieving them ahead of schedule.”

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