Canola growers urged to aim higher

Canola growers at the Nov. 16 Powering Your Profits event in Lethbridge got a chuckle out of the title of Autumn Barnes’ presentation: Make Canola Great Again.

The reference to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was nevertheless appropriate as Barnes, of the Canola Council of Canada, encouraged growers to seek yield improvements.

Her theme was stand establishment and a target plant density of seven to 10 plants per sq. foot. That won’t necessarily be achieved by seeding five pounds per acre in every canola field.

“Five lb. an acre is something that we should not be doing in 2017,” said Barnes.

“We can do better than that.”

She suggested that growers set a target plant density, count the plants per sq. foot when they emerge, record that information and monitor the crop throughout the season to see if the density had good results.

Barnes also said bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to seed size, at least up to a point.

“With the open pollinated varieties and really small seeds, back in the day when we were kind of getting up to that three or three and a half grams per thousand, we were seeing an increase in vigor and once we hit that … it kind of plateaus,” she said.

Seed weight of five to six grams per thousand is average but canola seed has considerable variability and growers need to take that into account. The TSW — thousand seed weight — is printed on the seed tag.

“What I’d like to see is growers just checking because still so many growers don’t even know where to find their thousand seed weight,” Barnes said.

“I really think everybody should be setting a target plant density and seeding to that density. That’s logical. It makes sense. … There’s a million reasons why you should do it, but if you have a grower that for whatever reason is going to be seeding at five lb. per acre no matter what, I would really advise them to, at the very least, look at their seed tag and if they find that they have a really heavy seed lot, that they should put more seed in the ground because they’re going to have fewer plants, fewer seeds per bag.”

According to a 2010 weed survey, most canola growers aim for four to six plants per sq. foot, but Barnes recommends a higher goal.

However, the decision depends on likely weed pressure in the field, ability for timely herbicide applications and the presence of herbicide tolerant weeds.

Other considerations include seeding conditions, trash cover, seeding date and confidence in equipment and operator.

If flea beetles are likely to be a big threat, a higher target stand might allow growers to avoid spraying and still realize good yield, said Barnes.

Similarly, a tight flowering window provided by a heavier density will allow more timely and effective spraying against sclerotinia.

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