What put the lid on canola yields in 2020?

At the Canola Council’s Canola Week event next week, the value chain will have the opportunity to reflect on “2020 yield-robbers” – a timely review of factors impacting on growers’ canola yields this past crop year. Canola Week is an ideal forum for this discussion as researchers and industry come together to set research priorities for the future.

“Each fall, our team of agronomy specialists across the Prairies examines the major yield-robbing factors for the year,” says Clint Jurke, CCC agronomy director. “This review and discussion among the value chain at Canola Week is an important part of how we stay on top of the latest challenges and the key opportunities to help protect yield through improved agronomic practices.”

Statistics Canada, in its September estimates, put Canadian canola yields for 2020 at 41.6 bu./ac., which is slightly above the five year average of 41 bu./ac. An updated yield estimate is expected on December 3. “Buried within this ‘average’ is good news out of southern Alberta where farmers had their best year in a long time, and disappointing news for other areas where fields were looking good in June, but then fizzled to average by September,” says Jurke.

The CCC agronomy team summarizes five major yield robbing factors in 2020:

  • Heat hurt seed set. Hotter than average July temperatures, especially in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, hit canola right at flowering – which is the worst time for a heatwave. Heat at flowering damages pollination and reduces seed formation, resulting in high levels of missing or empty pods.
  • Wet-then-dry means roots not there when needed. When the year starts off with ample soil moisture, roots may not grow as deep. Then if rains stop part way through the season, which is what happened in 2020, plants tend to put more energy into root growth, which means less energy for seed production.
  • Soggy, flooded fields. Snow and rain that delayed harvest in the fall of 2019 meant that soil moisture heading into 2020 was high for many areas of the Prairies. This was good for the most part, but created particular challenges in the Peace region which still had crop to harvest in spring 2020, as well as areas in north central Alberta and northwest Saskatchewan that had field access issues due to spring moisture.
  • Wind blows and gusts and gales. Wind delayed in-crop herbicide applications for many farms. This allowed weeds to grow bigger, competing with the crop for sunlight and nutrients. Wind can also force flea beetles to take shelter on canola stems, where they can cause even greater yield loss.
  • Disease factors. While a dry end to the year reduced yield losses from disease, disease factors did play a role. Warm, moist soil temperatures may have contributed to an increase in foot and stem rots, Manitoba saw a rebound in blackleg incidence, and verticillium stripe was found in more areas and may have caused yield loss.

Justine Cornelsen, CCC agronomy specialist, will review each of these factors during her presentation during Canola Week on December 2, as well as key agronomy tips for the year ahead to sustainably and profitably increase average yields. This leads into updates and panel discussions to help to align research priorities across the entire value chain and focus efforts on the areas of greatest opportunity.

Yields increases are a key ingredient in improving canola producer revenues and the competitiveness of the sector. Canola yields have increased from a five-year average of 25.3 bu./ac. in the early 2000s, to 33 bu./ac. a decade ago to the 41 bu./ac. today. The CCC’s annual review of yield robbers provides a focus for the industry to review and learn from the crop year just past.

Canola Week will be held virtually from December 1-3, bringing together canola growers, researchers, agronomists, life science representatives and other stakeholders. More information and registration can be found at canolaweek2020.com.

The Canola Council of Canada is a full value chain organization representing canola growers, processors, life science companies and exporters. Keep it Coming 2025 is the strategic plan to ensure the canola industry’s continued growth, demand, stability and success – achieving 52 bushels per acre to meet global market demand of 26 million metric tonnes by the year 2025.