Top 10: February planning for growing season

1. Which canola varieties to put where? It would take more than a paragraph to dig into all scenarios, but clubroot-resistant (CR) varieties should certainly go on fields with known clubroot issues and ideally on all fields that have been in a tight canola rotation. Certainly consider CR for fields with previous undiagnosed premature ripening issues and new fields with an unknown history. Change the blackleg-resistance source for canola going into a field that has increasing levels of blackleg infection. Change herbicide-tolerant systems (or use the stacked traits) in fields where the weeds could benefit from a change in approach. Read more about Truflex and stacked LL and RR. Canola Performance Trial results can help with seed decisions.

2. Which crops to put where? Most of those decisions will already be made for 2020, so this is probably more of a long-term approach. One idea for 2020 is to look for a field that might be suitable to test drive a new crop that could help lengthen rotations in the future. The ideal for canola is to go on fields that have had at least a two-year break from canola, but that requires at least two other good crops that can be grown in regular rotation. Pulses are often a good choice, but look for fields without high residual nitrogen levels.

3. Which crops to seed first? Canola may not be the best crop to seed first, given that seed survival and uniform emergence are important to the value equation for canola, and that canola is also more susceptible to frost. Crops with a growing point below ground are much more frost tolerant. These include peas, wheat, barley and oats. See a video on early wheat seeding with AAFC’s Brian Beres.

4. What inputs to keep at current levels, which to increase and which to cut? With lower market prices, the conversation often comes around to cost management. Consider inputs carefully. Which ones provide a clear return on investment? (Nitrogen, seed) Which ones are maybes? And which ones are least likely to provide a return? (Micronutrients and potassium, in most cases.)

5. What is the ideal canola target stand? A stand of 5 to 8 plants per square foot provides an ideal balance between seed cost, yield potential and profitability. (A uniform crop with more plants per square foot can reduce weed management costs, limit yield loss from insect and disease, and reduce days to maturity.) Use the Canola Calculator to figure out the ideal stand for each field.

6. What is the clubroot plan for 2020? The recipe for clubroot management has these ingredients: (1) Vigilantly scout all canola fields for symptoms, even if growing a CR variety. (2) Keep a minimum 2-year break between canola crops. (3) Seed CR varieties and understand if/when to deploy different sources of CR. (4) Limit activities that can introduce foreign soil or cause erosion. (5) Control host weeds stinkweed, shepherd’s purse, flixweed, all mustards and volunteer canola. (6) Isolate field entrances and hot spots. Watch a video for an excellent overview of clubroot management. Find more answers in the Canola Encyclopedia section on clubroot.

7. How to catch up on fertilizer? Weather messed up a lot of fall fertilizer intentions. Farmers will need a plan this spring to apply enough fertilizer, while also seeding in a timely fashion. Banding at the time of seeding is ideal, but a pre-seed broadcast application can work in the spring (nitrogen stabilizers are a must in this scenario) and is preferable to seed-row placement, which is damaging to seeds, especially canola. If cutting rates, consider those macronutrients less likely to provide a response at high rates, like phosphorus and potassium. In-season top-dressing could be a good second option – especially for products that are not needed in great quantities until after the five-leaf stage (sulphur, for example.)

8. What to do with crop remaining in the field? Unharvested acres will be the first thing farmers will have to deal with this spring. There is no easy or one-size fits all answer for how to best handle these crops, and all options will have to be on the table. Combining swaths or standing crop would probably be ideal, as it might be worth salvaging and at least removes the volunteer seedbank. Another option is to direct-seed into flattened, written-off cereal stands. In some cases, farmers will consider destroying the crop through cultivation or fire. Contact the insurance provider before taking any steps. Note that the Canadian Grain Commission will collect spring-harvested samples for its Harvest Sample Program. It provides farmers with some third-party quality information and helps Canadian agriculture with a better understanding of the quality situation for overwintered crop.

9. How to set up an on-farm trial? On-farm research can be an excellent way to give new products and techniques a true test. Farmers and agronomists planning on-farm trials could use these protocols.

10. How to control volunteer canola? With all the harvest challenges last fall (and this spring), canola volunteers could be worse than usual. Pre-seed burnoff ahead of all crops, but especially canola, may be required to remove this competition. Read about volunteer canola management in the Canola Encyclopedia.