Farmers must evolve management practices to meet new challenges: canola council

Farmers have enjoyed a lot of management ease when growing canola in recent years.

But the growing horde of canola yield-killers is pushing many farmers and the industry toward a much more management-intensive system.

That increased management intensity will be necessary to allow farmers to keep increasing their canola production despite the challenges, said farmers and industry people at the Canola Discovery Forum.

“Our yields in canola have been lagging a bit,” observed Canola Council of Canada vice-president Curtis Rempel during the three-day event, Nov. 13-15.

The council is pushing the industry toward a 2025 goal of 26 million tonnes of seed production based on an average prairie yield of 52 bushels per acre.

Since 2011-12 yields have risen from an average of 34 bu. per acre to a 2016-18 average of 41, so getting to 52 in five years is a challenge. The rate of yield increase has been slowing, which might be partly because of the bad weather of recent years, but also a host of growing problems.

The increasing pressure from weeds, bugs and disease adds a handicap to expected growth, plus management tools such as neonicotinoids and glyphosate face regulatory and market threats.

The conference focused on integrated pest management (IPM) as a way of boosting average canola production by two bu. per acre, one of the five areas in which the council believes today’s yields can be increased.

Experts from many backgrounds and farmers from a number of regions talked about methods of lowering the risk of yield-killing bugs, disease and weeds with methods such as:

  • rotating crops
  • rotating herbicides
  • rotating clubroot resistance types
  • developing flea beetle resistant canola
  • intercropping
  • intensive threat monitoring
  • relentless adaptation

The final point on that list was like a thread tying together the presentations of a number of farmers, who have to deal with difficult insects, herbicide resistant weeds, and evolving diseases.

“We do a lot of things to try to sort of solve issues,” said Troy LaForge of Swift Current, Sask.

Scott Keller of Camrose, Alta., said he has built his farming plans on years of observation and experience of what’s going on in his fields. That lets him get ahead of a problem that could suddenly pounce if he wasn’t prepared.

For example, he runs a one-in-four canola rotation, which not only lowers clubroot risk in his vulnerable area, but also enables him to better control weeds.

Researchers talked about work figuring out flea beetle behaviour and ways of exploiting that understanding to control the insect.

A popular topic among farmers was the growing success of intercropping, with farmers and researchers beginning to find ways to combine crops to fight crop pests, disease and weeds while still providing fields that can be managed and remain profitable.

An air of anxiety hung over the conference as the threat of bans on neonic pesticides and the uncertainty over major markets like China presented problems.

But the overall picture drawn by the conference was one of an integrated industry relentlessly evolving to face down developing threats while still planning to meet its aggressive growth targets.

Growing canola is tough today. It’s going to get tougher, conference participants acknowledged. But as fast as the pests adapt, farmers and the industry aim to adapt faster.

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