Agronomy priorities: More canola, more profits, lower emissions 

The Canola Council of Canada identified five agronomy priorities that, when applied, can lead to higher canola yield and profitability, and reduce the yield-loss risk. By improving the efficiency of inputs, these steps can also reduce the carbon footprint of canola.  

  • More yield will supply canola processing expansion on the Prairies and long-term export customers of canola seed.
  • More profitability will maintain farmer interest in the crop.
  • A lower carbon footprint appeals to canola customers.

Three of the five priorities build yield, two protect yield. Agronomists and growers can work through the checklist of key best practices to identify which ones are applied on farm and which could use further examination. 

Build yield  

Priority 1: Improve nutrient use and efficiency  

Key objective: Fertilizer application practices that focus on 4R Nutrient Stewardship – Right source of fertilizer used at the Right rate, at the Right time and in the Right place – will reduce losses and increase profits. A balanced approach to fertilizer, with consideration for “most economic rates,” could produce higher yields. The Canola Council of Canada strategic plan suggests that fertilizer management could increase canola yields by 3 bu./ac., possibly much more.  

Best practices:   

Moving forward: With considerable interest from existing and new companies, biofertilizer products that fix nitrogen from the air should continue to improve. Variable rate application and soil testing will change as real-time analysis becomes more accurate and widely adopted.  More accurate longer-term forecasting, especially for moisture, would help with fertilizer rate decisions.

Priority 2: Choose the best seed traits for each field  

Key objective: Make seed decisions based on the best traits for each field. Traits that may influence the performance on specific fields include disease resistance, herbicide system and days to maturity. The Canola Council of Canada strategic plan suggests that genetic advancement could increase canola yields by 8 bu./ac. over the course of a decade.  

Best practices:  

  • Evaluate new cultivars. One strategy is to grow a new cultivar on at least one field each year. Look at various sources of yield data, including local and Prairie-wide results for as many years as available.
  • To provide some “weather-proofing,” choose hybrids that provide consistent high-yield performance in various conditions and pest scenarios. 
  • Know the blackleg risk in each field. A crop rotation with canola every three or four years on a field is usually enough to manage blackleg. If disease assessment at harvest indicates yield loss from blackleg, use lab race testing and R-gene rotation to reduce the risk (explained here).
  • Clubroot resistance is a common trait in high-performing canola cultivars. Rotate to other sources of resistance when resistant cultivars show higher levels of clubroot infection. 
  • Consider harvest goals when selecting pod shatter resistance, lodging score and days to maturity. Selecting a  shorter-season cultivar to evade frosts can assist with harvest time management.
  • If flea beetles are a common problem, consider seed treatments with enhanced flea beetle protection (Table 1 here).

Moving forward: Canola genetic improvements will include photosynthetic efficiency, nutrient and moisture foraging, climate adaptability and carbon capture. Some of these traits will be transgenic or will require new gene-editing tools, so will require regulatory and market approvals before they can be introduced. New pest resistance traits are coming for sclerotinia stem rot, verticillium stripe and possibly insects.  

Priority 3: Achieve a uniform 5 to 8 plants per square foot  

Key objective: A uniform canola stand with five to eight plants per square foot at the same growth stage will maintain yield potential of the crop, increase competition with weeds, reduce the flea beetle risk, and make for easier timing decisions for weed, disease and harvest management. A uniform stand of five to eight plants per square foot is like performance insurance. The Canola Council of Canada strategic plan suggests that improved plant establishment could increase canola yields by 3 bu./ac., on average.

Best practices:   

  • Use the seeding rate calculator to set a rate based on target stand, seed size and estimated seed survival. The CCC grower survey from 2022 suggests that a large majority of farmers set targets within the recommended range of five to eight plants per square foot. (Article on survey results)
  • Follow crop establishment principles to improve seedling survival beyond the typical 50 to 60 per cent.
  • Count stands about three weeks after seeding and again at harvest to make sure stands are five to eight per square foot consistently. If they’re not, try to figure out why so the problem can be solved next time. How to count? Why low?
  • Know the herbicide history of each field and understand the carryover risk as it relates to canola crop establishment. Herbicide rotation and carryover

Moving forward: With increasing concern for glyphosate-resistant weeds, narrower seed row spacing and other steps to improve crop competition with weeds will be re-evaluated. Research into soil microbiome and seed treatments could improve emergence.

Protect yield 

Priority 4: Identify and manage the top yield robbers  

Key objective: Scout regularly to see what pests, environmental factors or mechanical issues challenge stand establishment, flowering and seed set. Manage those factors that cause the greatest loss for each field. The Canola Council of Canada strategic plan suggests that integrated pest management could increase canola yields by 2 bu./ac., and possibly much more in fields where, for example, blackleg and verticillium stripe yield loss is underestimated and not managed.  

Best practices:  

  • A vigorous crop of five to eight plants per square foot is a good first defence against flea beetle. Use enhanced seed treatments in areas with frequent heavy flea beetle pressure. Flea beetle management tips. Flea beetles are the top insect of concern for canola in Canada, based on grower surveys in 2020 and 2022.
  • For sclerotinia stem rot, use the checklist to assess the risk. If spraying, apply at the right time. Sclerotinia stem rot management
  • Have at least a two-year break between canola crops to keep clubroot and blackleg pathogen levels low and protect resistant traits from selection of more virulent pathotypes/races. 
  • Learn to identify verticillium stripe. If widespread, consider crop rotation and ask seed companies about cultivars with increased genetic tolerance. Is it verticillium stripe or blackleg?
  • Follow thresholds before applying insecticides. Each insect has a specific threshold.
  • Spray weeds early and use effective tank mixes. An effective tank mix has at least two modes of action (herbicide groups) that work on the target weed(s). Ex. If kochia is resistant to Group 9, then glyphosate is not an effective herbicide for that kochia population.
  • Use multiple integrated weed management practices to reduce the reliance on herbicides alone.

Moving forward: Sensors and traps could automatically notify farmers of a flea beetle risk. Ongoing projects, including an updated risk checklist and in-field spore sensors, will improve sclerotinia risk assessment. Verticillium stripe is spreading rapidly, especially in the Eastern Prairies, and more research is needed to quantify yield loss and identify effective management practices.  

Priority 5: Harvest all seeds and deliver No.1 grade  

Key objective: Give all seeds time to mature, then capture all of that yield, store the grain safely and deliver it to market without spoilage. The Canola Council of Canada strategic plan suggests that harvest management could increase canola yields by 2 bu./ac., on average.  

Best practices:  

  • Establish a uniform crop with five to eight plants per square foot. This simplifies harvest timing decisions, shortens days to maturity, and gives better results for pre-harvest sprays and straight combining. 
  • Cut canola later for higher yields. (60 per cent seed colour change is a good start point.)
  • Check for losses out the back of the combine. Harvest loss calculator
  • Use the combine optimization tool to calibrate combine concave and sieve setting and loss monitors, and to set the combine to reduce losses, if necessary. Become familiar with how losses changes based on harvest conditions. Tips from combine college
  • Use pre-harvest aids (diquat, glyphosate, saflufenacil) if necessary to manage green growth and straight combine efficiently.
  • Know the risk factors for storage and check bins regularly. How to check | Search storage research at Canola Research Hub.
  • Grain drying capacity can reduce harvest risk if it means harvesting a little earlier to get ahead of winter, and reducing storage risk from tough canola. How to make in-bin drying more efficient

Moving forward: Straight combining is becoming common practice. This should increase yields relative to early swathing. More green dockage as a result of straight combining could increase the storage risk.