Farmer goes all in

Competitor for Agri-Trend Canola 100 challenge tried every trick in the book, but failed to significantly increase his canola yields

When Rene Nielsen decided to enter Agri-Trend’s Canola 100 challenge, he thought it would be a good opportunity to try products and rates that he wouldn’t normally use.

Nielsen has grown big canola crops in the past, and after discussions with his agronomist, Matt Gosling, they figured they might be able to pull off a yield around 100 bushels per acre.

“We haven’t grown 100 bu. on 50 acres continuously, but we’ve grown 95 under irrigation,” Nielsen said.

Gosling said the average annual production on this farm, including some canola field averages of 80 bu. per acre last year, led him to believe they would have a chance of winning the competition if the plot received 330 to 380 millimetres of rainfall throughout the year.

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The wheat stubble field received 340 mm of rain from May to Sept. 15.

Nielsen’s farm, called Bruce Farms, is 13,000 acres and located near Cheadle, Alta. A feedlot is part of the operation, and its manure is used to increase the fertility of the cropland.

“It (the field where the 50 plot is located) had three or four applications of manure over the last 15 years. We also put on a couple tonne of chicken manure we had available this spring,” Nielsen said.

However, the manure was just the beginning of the fertilizer program, which Gosling helped develop.

“We poured all the quote, unquote, snake oil you can pour onto a crop,” Gosling said.

“We had boron, we had copper, we had chicken manure and we had a foliar fertility program. We had in-season macro nutrition, the whole works.”

The plot also received seven foliar applications, and on paper the crop had the potential to exceed the 100 bu. per acre target.

“We targeted 280 lb. per acre of N removal,” he said.

However, the extra attention didn’t work.

The fertility program cost $300 per acre more than what was done to the check field but yielded only 70 bu. per acre, which was 1.4 bu. per acre more than the check field.

“We had this plot in the middle of a 400-acre field. The rest of the field did just as good, only a couple bu. short,” Nielsen said.

“I wasn’t overly amazed with the nutritional program that we used.”

Gosling said he was also disappointed with the yield results.

“It was a hell of a way to learn, and I’m glad we only did it on 50 acres and not more than that,” he said.

“I know everybody is kind of looking for the silver bullet, but we poured everything to this crop.”

Two Prebolt fungicides and two in-flower fungicides applications were used, but there was still some disease pressure that hurt yields.

“There was late disease pressure,” Nielsen said.

“We had sclertonia and we couldn’t drive in the field to treat it at that point. So we kind of lost it there in the rain.”

Nielsen said this would have been the year to reach 100 bu. per acre in canola because of the high amount of precipitation the crops received.

However, diseases also favour wet years, and they can be difficult to reach on soggy fields, especially once the canola canopy closes in.

Nielsen said some of the products they used this year likely won’t be used again, but he learned from the experience.

“With the amount of time and money we spent on it, I wasn’t super satisfied with the outcome,” he said.

“We learned from it and some of the things I want to keep playing around with.”

Pulling out the stops

Agronomist Matt Gosling said the 50-acre area contained some of the most productive soil on Rene Nielsen’s farm.  Manure history is strong, but not excessive. Organic matter is around 5.5 percent and pH is 6.5. There were 4.9 inches of moisture in the first 24 inches of the soil profile in the spring on well-drained sandy loam soil. The zone also had elemental sulfur history as well. Gosling said the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium-sulfur nutrient status of the soil was “the equivalent of a super-charged HEMI.” The field received 13.5 inches of rain from May to Sept. 15 and had 1,293 growing degree days.

The following was done on this land:

  • three tonnes of chicken manure delivering about 70-35-64-20
  • 300 pounds per acre of SuperCal broadcast
  • five lb. per acre of CuSO4 and two lb. per acre of granular B broadcast
  • light ProTill tillage
  • seed target of nine to 10 plants per sq. foot assuming 50 percent mortality; variety was L252
  • seed speed: 2.5 m.p.h.
  • seed primer applied
  • seeded May 3 with 108-31-0-0 side banded
  • broadcast 200 lb. per acre of AMS as an in-season nitrogen strategy at three leaf stage
  • seven in-season applications of foliar nutritional products
  • two prebolt fungicides and two in-flower fungicides at 20 percent and 14 days later
  • swathed at 60 percent colour

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