Crop Rotation

Table of contents

    Important tips for best management

    • Have at least one year, preferably two or three years, between canola crops. Canola seeded into canola stubble yields an average of 10% to 20% less than canola seeded into cereal or pulse stubble.
    • In a rotation that has canola every second year, growers should increase the level of pest management diversity by using different modes of action for weed, disease and insect control.
    • Fields with a short interval between canola crops should be scouted more frequently and intensively for pests and other rotation related issues. Keep accurate records to identify any trends towards increasing problems that may indicate a need to decrease canola frequency in the rotation.


    Yield effects of rotations

    Canola seeded into canola stubble yields 10% to 20% less, in general, than canola seeded into cereal or pulse stubble. Farmer-reported yield data from provincial crop insurance records demonstrate this clearly and consistently in all Prairie Provinces.

    Alberta Agriculture provides the above graph online which features Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) data.

     

    The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) both provide information on rotations online.

     

    Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) crop rotation information is available online.

     

    The chart above showing Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) crop rotation data was presented by Manitoba Agriculture representatives (at the 2018 CropConnect conference).

    Additionally, this yield relationship can be demonstrated in replicated field trials. In one AAFC study, canola yield was shown to increase between 0.2 – 0.36 MG/Ha (3.5-6.5 bu./ac.) with every annual increase in the number of years between canola crops (Harker et al. 2015).

     

    A number of factors may contribute to this drop in yield, either alone or in combination. Some of these include shifting or increasing disease, insect, or weed populations, declining soil fertility, and/or reduced available moisture throughout the typical canola rooting depth (unless rainfall is able to fully replenish it). When a crop is grown continuously, pest populations adapted to that crop will increase. Rotating crops tends to reduce pest build-up, especially immobile types that do not move in readily from nearby crops or on the wind.

     

    Influence on diseases

    Blackleg was the key reason behind the one-in-four rotation recommendation. In the 1980s and 1990s, many leading canola varieties did not have strong resistance to blackleg and growers could see substantial yield  losses if fields didn’t get at least a two-year break for blackleg to break down in the soil. All modern varieties have blackleg resistance, and while that resistance is beginning to be overcome in some locations for some varieties, genetic resistance is still an effective way for most growers to manage the disease in a tight canola rotation. Long term, however, tight rotations of varieties with similar genetic resistance have over time selected for blackleg races that are more virulent against that resistance

    Tight rotations can also cause seedling and root pathogens such as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctonia to build up in the soil.

    Clubroot spore load will increase with a tight rotation, especially if growers are not using clubroot resistant varieties. Research in Canada suggests that while a two-year break from canola can see a 90% reduction in spore loads in soil, disease severity and yield were not improved. Even when using clubroot resistant varieties, continuous canola and a one-year break showed substantial yield losses, with two, three, and four-year breaks being roughly equal. For that reason, a minimum of a two-year break is advised, with three and four-year breaks being preferable.

     

    bv

    (Source: Peng et al. 2015)

    Sclerotinia stem rot risk may also increase with a shorter rotation between canola crops on the same field, but with sclerotinia spores spreading so easily by wind and with 20 million (or more) acres of canola in Western Canada, rotation is not an effective management strategy for sclerotinia stem rot.

    Rotation with cereals will reduce canola disease, provided that volunteer canola and cruciferous weeds are controlled in the cereal break crops. Also, rotation with canola can reduce many cereal diseases such as common root rot, take-all and tan spot. Australian research has documented a significant reduction in take-all disease of wheat following canola, indicating that canola has a "biofumigation" effect.

    Rotation with other crops will not necessarily reduce the disease risk. Yield reductions may occur when canola is grown on stubble of other crops susceptible to the same diseases. Of greatest concern would be broadleaf crops, especially those in the Brassica family (ex. mustard). See table 1.

     

    Table 1. Guide to Field Selection for Canola Crops
    Crop Before CanolaWait PeriodRemarks
    Barley, canary seed, spring rye, fall rye, oats, wheat, triticale, winter wheat None No diseases in common with canola. Can be grown the year before or after canola. Control stinkweed, cleavers, mustard, volunteer canola and other problem weeds in these crops. Consider potential herbicide residue carryover problems. A low probability of a volunteer problem for one year for canola on spring rye and triticale.
    Buckwheat One year A high probability of a volunteer buckwheat problem exists for one year. A low probability of a damping-off and root-rot problem exists for one year. Where wild mustard was a problem in the buckwheat, a medium probability of a contamination problem for one year.
    Canola Three years A high probability of a disease problem for sclerotinia for four years, blackleg for three years, white rust in B. rapa varieties for three years, alternaria for two years; and a low probability for root rot for two years and damping off for one year. If wild mustard was present, a medium probability of a contamination problem for several years. Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. A high probability of a root maggot problem for one year following a B. rapa crop.
    Corn Two years Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. Soil test to a depth of 60 cm (24") to monitor nutrient levels and avoid over fertilization as corn is usually heavily fertilized.
    Flax One year A high probability of a volunteer problem for one year. A low probability of a disease problem for root rot for two years and damping off and sclerotinia for one year.
    Forage legume (alfalfa, clover) One year Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. A low probability of a disease problem for three years for sclerotinia, two years for root rot and one year for damping off. Available nitrogen may approximate summerfallow nitrogen levels if legume breaking is done before June 30. Perennial legumes have a relatively high sulphur requirement and may deplete soil supplies. Soil test to determine sulphur status.
    Mustard Two to three years A high probability of a volunteer problem for one year, followed by a medium to low probability for two years. Mustard is a contaminant of canola, therefore, control volunteer mustard in the wait period. If wild mustard was present, a medium probability of a contamination problem for one year. A high probability of a disease problem for sclerotinia for four years, white rust for three years, and a low probability for root rot for two years and damping off for one year.
    Potato One year Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. A low probability of a disease problem for three years for sclerotinia, two years for root rot and one year for damping off. If wild mustard was a problem in the potatoes, a medium probability of a problem for one year. Soil test to a depth of 60 cm (24") to monitor nutrient levels and avoid over fertilization as potatoes are usually heavily fertilized.
    Pulse (pea, bean, lentil) One year Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. A low probability of a disease problem for three years for sclerotinia and one year for root rot and damping off.
    Sugar beet Three years Cyst nematodes infest sugar beets causing root deformity, reducing production and sugar content. Nematodes may lie dormant in soil for several years as cysts (also attacks canola/rapeseed and mustard). Three- to four-year rotations among sugar beets, canola/rapeseed and mustard reduce nematode populations in the soil. A low probability of a disease problem for one year for root rot and damping off.
    Sunflower Three years A high probability of a volunteer problem for one year. Consider potential herbicide carryover problems. A high probability of a disease problem for sclerotinia for four years, and a low probability for root rot and damping off for one year.

     

    Influence on insects

    Root maggots have been shown in a recent study to escalate quickly in fields of continuous canola. This coincides with reduced yields. Based on average canola prices, the yield losses quantified in the study were equivalent to $108-$140 per acre after only three years of continuous canola. There are no insecticides available to control root maggot in canola. The study found that a one-year break did appear to make a significant reduction in losses from root maggots.

     

    d

    (Source: Dosdall et al. 2012)

    Pinning these yield losses on root maggot alone may not be entirely accurate. Disease probably played a role in yield losses. Root maggot feeding can provide an entry point for disease, or thin stands caused by seedling disease may result in more intense root maggot feeding. Research from the mid-1990s found that the greatest root maggot damage occurred in stands planted at half the recommended seeding rate. Lower stand densities produced plants with larger basal stem diameters, and larger basal stem diameters were correlated with statistically significant increases in root maggot damage, the study found.

    Tight rotations and the general increase in canola acres will also favor many other insects, especially those capable of overwintering in Canada, and may increase the selection pressure for resistance to common canola seed treatments or foliar insecticides. AAFC research found that flea beetles in Ontario were starting to develop resistance to some older foliar insecticides that had been applied.

    Influence on soil fertility. Hybrid canola removes as much soil nitrate as wheat, and therefore high yields in tight rotations with canola and wheat will result in low soil nitrate levels. Fertilizer rates may need to rise in response to more intensive canola rotations when high yields are being achieved.

    One reason for lower yields for canola on canola in crop insurance data may be due to fertility. Crop insurance data is based on grower reported yields, and the data does not factor in any variables used to grow the crop. Growers will often use the same canola fertility mix whether they’re seeding canola into canola stubble or into wheat stubble.

    Increasing nutrient rates to match removal by the previous crop may help close the gap on crop insurance numbers, but it may not close the gap completely. AAFC rotation research tested various fertilizer rates to see if canola on canola yields could be brought up to par with yields for canola on other stubble by increasing nitrogen rates. Fertilizer did help boost yields for canola on canola, but it never closed the yield gap. Higher fertilizer rates did increase the yield for canola on canola, but canola on all other stubbles also increased as nutrient rates increased. In general, canola yielded better on other stubbles no matter the fertilizer rate  (Harker et al. 2018).

    Moisture effects

    High yielding canola uses a lot of moisture in the first two to three feet of topsoil. In years when that moisture is not replenished, canola seeded after high yielding canola (or even after wheat) will have lower yield potential.

    Influence on weeds. Alternate crops in the rotation allow different herbicides to be used and thus can provide better overall weed control in the long term. Rotating crops and herbicides also helps to rotate herbicide groups and thus reduce the build-up of herbicide-resistant weeds.

    Canola volunteers and other weeds not controlled easily in canola will become worse in a tight rotation. These weeds in particular will require a concerted control effort to ensure effective control in rotation crops. Tight canola rotations and a limited spectrum of herbicide groups that dominate most canola acres means increased likelihood of finding resistant biotypes and allowing them to increase in number within the field.

    Adding other crops to a canola-cereal rotation may increase the risk of herbicide carryover. For example, applying Odyssey to a pea crop ahead of canola is not recommended, and could increase the risk of imazethapyr damage to canola the following year. See table 1 for other examples.

    Other effects

    The following may not influence canola yield potential directly, but could increase or decrease costs required to achieve the same yields.

    1. Shifts in pest populations. Pests that have not been a problem before may increase in number with more canola acres, increasing pest management costs.

    2. More canola in the rotation generally means more nitrogen fertilizer applied. If this increases crop biomass and increases residue levels each year, it could increase soil organic matter levels over long term. Conversely, if nitrogen rates do not keep up with nitrogen removal, canola in a tight rotation could reduce soil organic matter.

    3. If the preceding crop is a hay or pasture crop, look at a burndown of the hay crop in late June or early July. Later summer timing of sod-breaking may limit subsequent canola production because of depleted soil stored moisture, poor fertility and weed control, and the difficulty in preparing a good seedbed without sod clumps. Glyphosate burndown of the hay crop in late June or early July will allow for some weed control and will retain soil moisture. Breaking up the sod layer can result in lumps and a mulch layer that are not conducive to proper stand establishment. Direct seeding into sod has contributed to success, but the canola seed must be placed into moist soil in the mineral layer. 

    4. Research around the world has documented that leachates from wheat, alfalfa and some forage grasses can be toxic to canola seedlings. Australian research has found that wheat varieties can differ in the toxicity of their residues to canola. Wheat residue phytotoxicity may partly explain occasional poor emergence and vigour of canola direct seeded into heavy wheat straw residue. To reduce residue toxicity, spread wheat straw and chaff evenly behind the combine, and in cases of extreme straw production, bale wheat straw. Growing semi-dwarf cereal varieties may also reduce straw load.


    Managing your rotation

    No single crop rotation will suit all circumstances. The choice of which crops to grow, and in what sequence, depends to a large extent on the soil and climatic conditions of a particular farm and also on the grower's management skills. In areas with adequate moisture, rotations that include cereals and broadleaf crops maintain pests at lower levels and produce consistently higher yield. An added benefit is that yields are often more stable because crops differ in their response to stress at various stages. Therefore, stress may damage one crop seriously, but others in the rotation may be less affected. Use the information in Table 1 as a guide in selecting a field for canola. Also consider crop rotation information from MASC when considering crop rotation.

    The purpose and value of a three or four-year crop rotation is to maintain diversity in the cropping system. Cereals and pulses generally host a different mix of insects and disease than canola, and cereals and pulses offer other options for weed control.

    If growers plan to seed canola more frequently, they should increase the level of pest management diversity by using different modes of action for weed, disease and insect management. Crop scouting and recording of issues observed should be intensified to help identify any trends that may indicate problems developing from inadequate rotation break between canola crops.

     

    References

    Dosdall, L. M., Harker, K. N., O'Donovan, J. T., Blackshaw, R. E., Kutcher, H. R., Gan, Y., Johnson, E. N. 2012. Crop Sequence Effects on Root Maggot (Diptera: Anthomyiidae: Delia spp.) Infestations in CanolaJournal of Economic Entomology. Vol 105 (4): 1261–1267. 

    Harker, K.N., Hartman, M.D., Tidemann, B.D., O'Donovan, J.T., Turkington, T.K., Lupwayi, N.Z., Smith, E.G., Mohr, R.M. 2018. Attempts to rescue yield loss in continuous canola with agronomic inputs. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. Vol 98 (3): 703-716.

    Harker, K. N., O’Donovan, J. T., Turkington, T. K., Blackshaw, R. E., Lupwayi, N. Z., Smith, E. G., Johnson, E. N., Gan, Y., Kutcher, H. R., Dosdall, L. M., Peng, G. 2015. Canola rotation frequency impacts canola yield and associated pest species. Canadian Journal of Plant Science Vol 95: 9-20.

    Kutcher, H. R., Brandt, S. A., Smith, E. G., Ulrich, D., Malhi, S. S., Johnston, A. M. 2013. Blackleg disease of canola mitigated by resistant cultivars and four-year crop rotations in western Canada. Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology. Vol 35 (2): 209-221.

    Peng, G., Pageau, D., Strelkov, S. E., Gossen, B.D., Hwang, S.F., Lahlali, R. 2015. A >2-year crop rotation reduces resting spores of Plasmodiophora brassicae in soil and the impact of clubroot on canola. European Journal of Agronomy. Vol 70: 78-84.

    Rashid, A., Hwang, S. F., Ahmed, H. U., Turnbull, G. D., Strelkov, S. E., Gossen, B. D. 2013. Effects of soil-borne Rhizoctonia solani on canola seedlings after application of glyphosate herbicide. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. Vol 93: 97-107

    Date modified: March 5, 2019