Ontario research aims to make canola profitable

Ontario growers now have a Canola Learning Centre to help them overcome some of the problems with growing profitable canola.

Canola is the largest crop grown in Canada, overtaking wheat this year, but in Ontario acres have been decreasing.

Canola acres have declined by about a third in the past five years to 40,000 acres. Pests and disease can make canola more difficult to grow compared to crops like soybeans, corn and wheat.

Canola is also grown only in Ontario’s northern growing areas, which limits acres.

At a grower day at the site located north of Arthur, Ont., industry experts took farmers through the highlights of the work underway.

Deb Campbell of Agronomy Advantage talked about the challenges of growing profitable canola.

“It has become harder to make a consistent return on a canola acre versus a soybean acre,” she said.

The eight acres of trials being conducted include low-, medium- and high-rate seeding trials, a twin-row planter system versus narrow rows with a seeder. They are also comparing four different nitrogen rates, a pre-plant application (110 pounds of nitrogen) and then several, higher top-dress applications.

The goal is to compare various interactions to figure out the most profitable.

The site received 500 millimetres of rain in May and June and the excess moisture has caused problems, especially with nitrogen trials.

The field had Lystek, a biosolids product, applied the fall before last year’s corn crop and Campbell had expected 15 to 20 percent residual nitrogen available this season. But her tests show little mineralization of residual nitrogen this year due to saturated soils.

Campbell and her staff are using drones to measure crop health and in the canola plots, and it has shown some striking differences in development, such as faster emergence from the canola planted with a seeder versus a planter. Some of the plot area was cultivated three times and some two times and there was a surprising difference between the two areas in crop development on the canopy map.

Once you’ve identified issues in the canopy, Campbell said you have to go to the plot to find out what’s happening.

The two different zones caused by tillage differences had five and seven parts per million on a nitrate test.

“Seven parts per million as we’re coming into full, big reproductive canopy, I don’t think that’s enough,” she said.

There are no soil nitrate curves for canola in Ontario and no standard way of evaluating nitrate levels. This year on 250 nitrate tests, Campbell said more tested at less than 15 parts per million than tested more than 20 parts per million.

She blamed the rain and lack of mineralization of residual nitrogen.

When she compared nitrogen curves for high-yielding canola from southern Manitoba, she said she thinks Ontario is not using high enough nitrogen rates.

The Manitoba curves suggest 160 lb. of nitrogen for 50-bushel canola.

“I don’t know that many of us are in that category (of nitrogen application). These new hybrids seem to have a higher demand for nitrogen.”

She said getting the top-dressed nutrients on the field has been a challenge due to the wet weather. The crop is at the stage where she doesn’t want to apply 28 percent nitrogen. The plan is to top dress with another broadcast fertilizer product.

Tissue tests have also shown issues with nitrogen-sulfur ratio and potassium levels, which also indicate problems with too much rain and the inability of the crop to get nutrients from the soil.

One main area of research at the site is seeding rates. Newer canola hybrids are shown to thrive at lower seeding rates.

The Ontario plots are looking to validate research already conducted by Bayer in Western Canada with its InVigor hybrids, which showed InVigor yields better at five to seven plants per sq. foot.

“The recommendation for the past decade or so, we’ve been targeting seven to 11 plants per sq. foot,” said Marieke Patton of Bayer Canada.

Bayer evaluated several areas where seeding rates have an im-pact. First is yield, second is getting good weed control, especially if the crop is too thin, and third is white mould.

Plant too thin and you get better air movement, but plant too thick and you might get more white mould. A fourth area is lodging.

When seeding rate is lowered from 11 to seven, there’s still good weed control, less sclerotinia pressure and yield remains strong, she said.

Dan Orchard, an agronomist with the Canola Council of Canada, said canola infected with clubroot was found last year for the first time in Ontario.

He said the biggest issue with clubroot in Alberta is growers not providing enough time between canola crops. The canola-wheat-canola-wheat rotation is not long enough, he said. Clubroot spores need a consistent host and longer rotations without a host reduce levels of infestation.

By using clubroot resistant canola and good rotations, Ontario growers should be able to control the disease, said Orchard.

The Learning Centre was set up by the Ontario Canola Growers and Agronomy Advantage Inc., an agronomy consulting company. The centre is partially funding through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial farm program.

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