Stand establishment: Little things that made a big difference this year

For many farms across the Canadian Prairies this year, dry soil conditions delayed germination, emergence and crop establishment. We note a few little details that seem to have helped canola emergence in these challenging conditions.

Timely scouting. Those fields that needed and received timely flea beetle action, look better. These timely applications when often triggered by scouting observations in the days during and immediately after emergence.

Higher seeding rate. Seeding to target the high end of the recommended stand (of 5 to 8 plants per square foot) seemed to provide an effective buffer against flea beetle feeding and lower emergence percentages due to dry conditions.

Upgraded seed treatment. Some farmers in areas with extra heavy flea beetle pressure noticed a benefit from an upgraded flea beetle seed treatment. In some cases, it made the difference between having to reseed. In other cases, it gave them two or three extra days before a foliar insecticide application.

Seeding depth. With dry conditions, a seeding depth of 1” to 1.5” can improve emergence rates when moisture is unavailable in the top half inch. The risk with this practice is that some drills are inconsistent, meaning some seeds are placed at the target depth of 1.5” or less, while other seeds are placed much too deep for rapid emergence.

Seeding date. Later seeded crops (mid May) didn’t seem to have the same level of flea beetle feeding as earlier seeded crops (late April and early May).

Pre-seed burnoff with products approved for canola. With dry conditions, fields with a pre-seed burnoff had very little weed competition. This preserved precious soil moisture for the crop.

Pre-seed harrowing. In dry conditions, field work (including harrowing) in the spring can dry out the seedbed even more.

Seed-placed fertilizer. Dry soils conditions increase the risk from seed-placed fertilizer. The general recommendation of no more than 20-25 lb./ac. of phosphate in the seed row (and everything else outside the seed row) is meant to protect young canola seedlings in these high-risk scenarios.

Packing pressure. In areas that were very dry during seeding, loose soil dried out too much and had uneven germination. Packing helped to seal in moisture and bring moisture to the seed.