Other Crops
Farmers in P.E.I. have the warm fall weather to thank for the extended seeding season of winter wheat and other cover crops. One farmer said he was able to plant more than 1,600 acres of cover crops to help with his crop rotation in the spring. | READ MORE
Following a three-year research project at the University of Guelph, researchers now have evidence Ontario farmers can consistently produce high yielding, good quality, double-cropped cereal forages following wheat harvests.

In 2012, to address forage shortages caused by a dry summer, many farmers turned to double-cropped forages following winter wheat, the practice of planting two forage crops in the same season. Overall, the experience was positive but questions remained, according to Bill Deen, an associate professor at the University of Guelph and the lead of the project. So began a research project to look more closely at the agronomics and nutritional aspects of double-cropped forages following a winter wheat harvest.

The project was co-funded by the Beef Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Forage Council via the Farm Innovation Program, the Agricultural Adaptation Council, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and the University of Guelph and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs partnership. The project was initiated following the 2012 season, when drought caused a shortage of forage.

The trials were planted at the Elora and Woodstock research stations and 12 farm sites throughout southern Ontario in no-till, dry soils in early August during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. Over the three seasons, the researchers collected data on yield, moisture, nutrient (phosphorus and potassium) and nutritional quality and had approximately 400 samples analyzed by using wet chemistry to determine a complete range of nutritional parameters and nutrient removal rates.

The results indicate oats forage (or an oat-and-pea mixture, if higher protein forage is required) were the best crops for fall-harvested cereal forage. “Good establishment and growth occurred more consistently for oats resulting in higher and less variable forage yields compared to either barley or triticale,” Deen says. “However, from a forage quality perspective, there was little difference between oat, barley and triticale forages.”  

The researchers also found double-cropped spring cereal forages harvested in the fall have consistently good nutritional quality. “Total digestible nutrient concentrations were similar for barley, oats and an oat-and-pea mixture forages,” Deen says. He adds, with the 2014 trials that included triticale, total digestible nutrient concentrations for triticale were similar to oats or barley.  

Another finding was that including peas as a mixture with a cereal will increase forage crude protein, although adding peas does not significantly affect yield or total digestible nutrient concentration of cereal forages.

“Crude protein concentrations for an oat-and-pea mixture forage averaged 2.7 per cent higher than pure oat forage,” Deen says. “Including peas in a spring cereal forage is of benefit only if a forage with higher crude protein is required.”

In 2012, the trials were planted in early August in no-till, dry soils with rainfall occurring about one week following planting. These trials indicate high fall cereal forage yields are possible even when the spring and early summer are unusually dry.

Advice to producers
Timely planting with appropriate management and inputs is essential for successful crop production and Deen says this also applies for producing higher-yielding, good quality, double-cropped cereal forages.

“Plant the cereal forage as soon as possible following wheat harvest,” he says. “Cereal forage yields are increased by additional August growing days, which cannot be made up for by delaying fall harvest dates. Plant even if the soil is dry because the forage crop will get off to an earlier start when the rains finally arrive. Yield is based on timely planting following winter wheat.”

Dean advises planting cereal forages in no-till to preserve soil moisture, and keeping stubble heights low and straw baled to reduce the amount of straw in the cereal forage. If applying
liquid manure, Deen says producers should consider applying the manure, incorporating it into the soil and then planting their cereal forage as soon as possible.

“The moisture provided by the liquid manure, if the cereal forage is planted soon after application, may assist in quick emergence when planted into drier soils,” he says.

As for inputs, the research shows it is best to top dress 50 to 70 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare (kg N/ha) after successful emergence of the cereal crop has occurred. This is because the previous wheat crop depletes the soil nitrogen and additional nitrogen will be needed to ensure high cereal forage yields. Applying 50 to 70 kg N/ha increased oat forage yields, on average, by 70 per cent and crude protein by 0.6 per cent. Even when planted with peas, oats still require additional nitrogen, so Deen recommends applying nitrogen if planting oat and pea mixtures.

“On average, applying nitrogen increased oat and pea forage yields by 30 per cent and crude protein by 1.2 per cent,” he says. “If manure is applied, fertilizer nitrogen rates should be adjusted to account for the available nitrogen provided by the manure.”

Once established and growing, foliar disease, particularly rust, could become an issue so Deen recommends, if possible, planting oat varieties with high resistance to rust. Producers should also scout their crops and consider applying fungicide if they see rust.

As for harvest, cereal forage should be harvested by mid to late October.

“Forage yield gains by delaying harvests much beyond mid-October are small and the drying opportunities needed to make good quality silage or hay diminish quickly after mid-October,” Deen says. “Moisture content of flag to boot stage cereals is about 80 per cent and some in-field dry-down period will be required to reduce moisture content.”

“If you’re going to sell double-crop forages off farm, you need to consider nutrient removal, since double-crop forage contains one to two cents per pound of nutrients,” Deen says.  

Added value
Double-cropped forages add further value to inclusion of wheat in the rotation – something that really appeals to Deen.

“A lot of farmers think if they grow wheat, they should not bale the straw, but a corn-soybean-wheat rotation with the straw removed is still better for the soil than just a corn-soybean rotation,” he says. “Remove the straw, plant double-cropped forage and farmers can be confident soil quality is being improved.

“If they put in a cover crop and don’t harvest it, it’s good for the soil, but if they do [harvest it], it’s still good. It adds more value to the wheat system.”
It’s been a bad year for flax in Canada.

“Markets are suffering a bit across Canada,” says Brian Johnson, chair and director-at-large of the Flax Council of Canada.

Statistics Canada puts seeded acres for 2016 to 2017 at just over 900,000 acres across the country.

Johnson believes the reason for the drop in acreage is the huge increase in acreage in Eastern Europe over the last seven or eight years. “Flax is volatile – when the prices go up, we over-seed a bit. We have a much bigger carryover this July than last July, because prices were better last year,” Johnson says.

In Western Canada, acreage is down 40 per cent. Johnson says a big reason for the decrease is the explosion in lentil and pulse crops in Western Canada due to the shortfall in pulse production in India. “Lentils and flax are grown in the same area and basically a lot of farmers switched from flax to lentils,” he says.

But the picture in Ontario, where flax is hardly grown at all, is relatively unchanged from the last few years. Flax acreage in the province is down to fewer than 5,000 acres, though at its peak acreage was up to 75,000 acres, according to Mike Cowbrough, weed management field crops program lead for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Cowbrough is also the organization’s de facto “flax guy” due to the fact that he grew flax on his hobby farm for a decade.

Why the lack of flax in Ontario? Conditions in the province for growing flax are good, particularly in cooler regions such as Grey and Bruce County in central Ontario, and Verner and New Liskeard in the northeast.

Cowbrough believes there are two main reasons keeping producers from planting more acres. The first is economics. “If you look at the gross revenue potential in flax and compare it to other field crop staples, there’s anywhere from a 100 to 400 per cent difference in gross margin.

“The other potential knock against flax is that it’s never been an easy crop to harvest and the straw is a bit of an issue,” Cowbrough says. “It’s tough, it doesn’t break down, it’s difficult to spread out. It’s beautiful to grow and wonderful to look at but a pain to combine.”

From a production standpoint, the crop performs well in terms of disease and weed concerns, Cowbrough says. The main problems Ontario producers have with flax are price stability and harvesting ease.

“It’s a great crop in Ontario for harvesting earlier than soybean, and wonderful to have in a rotation with winter wheat,” he says. “If we grew more flax, our winter wheat yields would benefit from that. But it’s agribusiness, and the economics aren’t there for flax.”

Potential for growth
Troy Snobelen, owner of Snobelen Farms, a private grain producing, processing and trading company in Lucknow, Ont., says the company hasn’t processed flax in over a decade. “We got out of it because we didn’t have the volumes,” he says. “We used to bring in quite a bit of it from Western Canada, but it was hard to take a western product and add value and try to ship it to a U.S. market. It was inefficient.”

This sentiment is echoed by Steve Murray, a manager at Parrish and Heimbecker – but Murray still deals in flax, primarily for Ontario’s feed market.

“Most of our flax comes from the west, although in Ontario in the last couple of years the amount has increased,” he says. “Right now, our flax is probably 95 per cent Western Canadian, five per cent Ontario. Those numbers might change but they won’t change substantially. I can’t envision a 50-50 or anything like that.”

But there are positive indications for growth in local flax production. Formerly, producers couldn’t get crop insurance on flax, so they avoided the risk, but as of a few years ago, crop insurance is available on flax across the province. Murray believes this might make a difference.

John Gleeson, a private grain processor and trader near Moorefield, Ont., says increased local production would be of major benefit to his business. “We have big problems getting flax out west,” he says. “The railway is a joke. You can’t get rail cars for love nor money. We send our own trucks out to get flax, and we’re loading those new B-trains.”

Cowbrough says new research out of the University of Saskatchewan, funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation, will have little application in an eastern context and is unlikely to stimulate flax production in Ontario.

But the Flax Council of Canada is heavily invested in research to improve flax for food, feed and other markets – and to promote its excellent nutritional profile to stakeholders across the country. “There’s getting to be a better and better understanding of the health benefits of flax. That information is getting out there and that part of the industry is growing,” Johnson says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but flax has a lot of potential.”

Forage production in 2016 was challenging as the cool spring delayed early growth and was followed by a hot, dry summer before rains returned in August. While hay inventories are below average, most of the hay harvested was high quality. This year has seen an increase use of cover crops for emergency forage and fall grazing. More corn has been harvested for silage than originally planned. Farms that can utilize straw or corn stover are doing so in order to extend stored feed. 

Alfalfa winterkill and stand vigour
In 2016, there was very little winterkill observed across the province, mainly due to a very mild winter. The cool weather in March, April and into May reduced alfalfa growth and delayed first cut by approximately seven to 10 days. This fall saw a lot of fields cut during the critical fall rest period. Depending on when the killing frost comes, fields that were harvested up to six weeks prior are at an increased risk of winterkil. Other risk factors such as three-year-old (or older) stands, low potassium or pH, poor soil drainage, fields that had disease or insect issues, weather, ponding, and lack of snow cover, can increase the risk of winterkill and fields with multiple risk factors should be monitored in the spring.  

Fertility levels on many fields continue to cause yield drag. Phosphorus levels less than 12ppm and potassium levels less than 120ppm can significantly lower yields. Sulphur has continued to show up in plant tissue tests as a yield limiting nutrient. If plant tissue tests were completed when the alfalfa was at normal mowing height and at the late bud stage, sulphur levels under 0.22 per cent, indicate a deficiency. A soil sampling program should be implemented to monitor soil fertility levels. Fall applications of fertilizer or manure can take place up until the ground freezes or there is snow cover, but are most beneficial if applied directly after the final cut of forage.

New seedings
A dry spring provided the opportunity for new seedings to be planted into good soil conditions. However, lack of rainfall resulted in variable establishment, especially where packing for good seed-to-soil contact was insufficient. Summer seedings completed during optimum seeding dates in August appear to have been very successful as there was adequate moisture. Summer seedings do not have the yield drag associated with first year forages and will produce to their potential next year.  

First-cut yields and quality
First-cut yields were fairly average across southern Ontario. Due to the cool dry weather in April and May, alfalfa maturity was delayed by seven to 10 days. First-cut quality was excellent. The dry weather provided the opportunity to cut at the proper maturity and the majority of the first cut was harvested without rain and at the correct moisture levels.

Second, third and fourth cuts
Across most of southern Ontario, second- and third-cut yields were extremely variable depending upon precipitation which varied widely across the province but were typically below average or non-existent. Quality of hay was excellent, as rainfall did not impact harvest timing and the hay was taken off at the correct moisture. When alfalfa was allowed to go to full bloom, quality declined and yield did not significantly increase from 10 per cent bloom. After the rains returned in August, there were a lot of fields harvested one more time, and many of these were harvested during the critical fall harvest period as the need for high quality forage outweighed the risk. This cut had excellent yields for the time of year and made high-quality forage. 

This spring saw farmers having winter rye for grazing, and animals were out on those fields up to two weeks before their permanent pastures were ready for grazing. Pasture regrowth was slow this year due to the hot and dry weather and the benefits of rotational grazing were very visible as they managed to graze longer before the pastures dried out. Pastures where the growth left behind was still seven to 10 cm (three to four inches) when animals were moved after one to three days saw more regrowth over the course of the year and less hay fed. In order to accomplish this, the rest period during the summer was 45 days or more. Farms on permanent pastures were supplementing feed for up to 12 weeks while intensively managed rotationally grazed pasture were supplementing hay for two to three weeks. During July, there were reports of water holes drying up and cattle on pasture requiring additional water. Cover crops are being utilized to extend the grazing system into the fall and corn stalks are providing a forage source for a growing number of producers who prefer to graze. Grazing animals on corn stubble reduces feed costs, breaks down the stover and reduces the amount of hay required over the winter. Corn stalks can provide an excellent fibre source for non-lactating animals.

Corn silage
Corn silage production was very variable across the province, from very low to average yields. The grain content of the corn silage was also variable; with starch levels running from five per cent to 35 per cent (28 per cent is normal). Silage with low starch levels has low grain content and will require additional supplementation. Silage with high starch levels is typically associated with lower yields or a high grain:stover ratio and needs to be managed to avoid acidosis. In areas short of hay, additional acres of corn were harvested for silage rather than grain. 

Cover crops
With the reduced forage yields, there has been an increased interest in the use of cover crops for emergency forage as haylage, balage and grazing. The most popular cover crops are small grains (generally oats, but also barley and triticale) or a small grain and pea mixture. Peas increase the protein and energy content of the feed. Italian ryegrass was also used as it produces a higher quality feed than small grains and can be harvested once in the fall and again in the spring. Turnips and brassicas were added to mixtures of cover cops that were destined to be grazed in the fall.  

Fall rye and winter triticale are also seeing a boost in acres this fall as producers are looking for an early season forage. Fall rye and winter triticale can be planted following corn silage, grain corn or soybeans. They can be pastured in mid-to-late April if they are planted on dry ground, or cut for hay around mid-May.

Researchers at the University of Guelph are tapping into some ancient grains to see if their endophytes – microbes that live inside plants without causing disease – can help our modern crops. Manish Raizada and his lab have already found several endophytes that can control the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum in laboratory and greenhouse trials. Now they are testing these endophytes in field trials as a step toward possibly developing commercial biocontrol products.

Raizada is an associate professor in the university’s department of plant agriculture, and his research group has been studying endophytes since about 2007. They are adding to the growing body of endophyte research going on around the world, which is finding certain endophytes are able to promote plant growth by performing such functions as controlling plant pathogens, producing plant hormones and making nutrients available to the plant.

Two of Raizada’s PhD students have built a large collection of endophytes as a foundation for the lab’s further research, including the current anti-Fusarium endophyte work. To isolate endophytes from a plant, researchers sterilize the surface of the seeds, roots or shoots, and then culture the microbes from within the samples. The two students sampled mainly grain species and lines that have had to fight off pathogens without help from commercial fungicides.

“A former PhD student in my lab, David Johnston-Monje, isolated endophytes from 14 genotypes of corn from Central America, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. Those genotypes included three groups of corn: wild relatives of corn; Mexican landraces [traditional varieties] and a Canadian First Nations landrace from Quebec; and modern inbreds and hybrids,” Raizada explains. “The wild species obviously don’t grow with the use of fungicides, and farmers who are growing the traditional varieties are not usually using pesticides and fungicides. So we thought we might be able to capture endophytes that help combat fungal pathogens from those lines.”

PhD student Walaa Mousa isolated endophytes from finger millet. “Finger millet is an ancient Ethiopian crop. It is widely grown in Africa and South Asia. It is really valued by subsistence farmers because it is reported to be very resistant to a lot of pathogens,” Raizada says.

As a result of the work by Johnston-Monje and Mousa, Raizada’s lab now has a collection of over 250 cereal endophytes. Most are bacteria and a few are fungi.

Raizada and Mousa suspected finger millet might have anti-Fusarium endophytes. “Unlike a lot of cereal crops, finger millet is not susceptible to Fusarium graminearum. That is surprising given there is some evidence that Fusarium  pathogens evolved in Africa,” Raizada notes. “So we hypothesized: what if finger millet and its endophytes co-evolved with Fusarium, so there was a three-way co-evolution, and finger millet selected for endophytes that could combat Fusarium?”

Fusarium graminearum and its sexual stage, Gibberella zeae, cause tough-to-control diseases in many cereals, including Fusarium head blight in wheat and Gibberella ear rot in corn. These costly diseases reduce grain yield, grade and quality, and can produce mycotoxins, such as deoxynivalenol (DON), that limit the grain’s end-use.

Mousa tested all the endophytes in the lab’s collection by putting each one in a Petri dish with Fusarium graminearum. She found a handful of endophytes that could suppress the pathogen; some were from corn and some from finger millet, and most were bacteria.

Then she and Charles Shearer, who is now a Master’s student in Raizada’s lab, conducted greenhouse trials with five of the endophytes that controlled the pathogen in the lab. They applied the endophytes to wheat and corn as a seed coating or as a spray. The spray was applied on the corn silks at silking time and on the wheat heads at heading time. They used an Ontario corn hybrid and an Ontario wheat variety that are moderately susceptible to Fusarium graminearum. After the endophytes were applied, the plants were exposed to the pathogen.

In these replicated greenhouse trials, each of the five endophytes was able to control the pathogen, and one of the endophytes worked so well the treated plants didn’t show any symptoms at all of a Fusarium graminearum infection.

For Raizada, the most exciting results from the greenhouse trials were the endophytes’ remarkable effectiveness in reducing DON levels, which were analyzed by Victor Limay-Rios, a research associate at the university’s Ridgetown Campus. “At harvest, for whatever reason, all the samples had low DON levels, even the ones that hadn’t been treated with endophytes. Then Walaa stored the seeds for 14 months at room temperature; under those conditions, Fusarium is still active,” Raizada explains. “When Victor tested those stored seeds, he found that the DON mycotoxin levels were extremely high in the corn and wheat samples that had been exposed to Fusarium, but not treated with the endophytes. In contrast, the seeds that had been exposed to Fusarium and treated with the endophytes had very low DON levels, well below the acceptable level of DON mycotoxins, which is about 1 to 3 ppm, depending on which regulations and which conditions are involved.”

In corn, all five endophytes reduced the amount of DON to well below 0.1 ppm. In wheat, two of the endophytes reduced the DON levels to below 0.1 ppm; the other three significantly decreased DON levels but not to such a low level.

Field trials underway
In June 2015, Raizada’s lab received approval from the Canadian government to do field trials with the five endophytes. Shearer is heading up these two-year trials, which are taking place at the Ridgetown Campus. He is collaborating with Limay-Rios and Art Schaafsma, a professor at Ridgetown who is a leading expert in Fusarium.

In a field setting, endophyte applications face a couple of key challenges. One is that they may be outcompeted by microbes in the environment, so they might not even be able to colonize the plant. The other issue is how varying weather conditions might affect the endophytes.

The field trials are comparing the five endophytes in seed treatments and in-crop sprays on corn and wheat. Although a seed treatment would likely be the easiest for growers, Raizada thinks it might not be the most effective option because the endophytes might be outcompeted by soil microbes. However, the researchers are trying various ways to try to get around that problem.

Shearer is comparing different timings for the spray applications: at the same time as another product, like nitrogen fertilizer, is applied; or at the time of silking or heading. In addition, he’s testing the endophytes individually and as a cocktail of all the endophytes together.

The trials are comparing moderately susceptible and very susceptible cultivars of corn and wheat. The researchers will be assessing Fusarium graminearum symptoms on the ears and heads and measuring DON levels in the seeds. They will also be sampling different tissues from the treated plants to determine which tissues in the plant are being colonized by the endophytes. And they’ll be watching to see if perhaps the endophytes have other growth-promoting effects on the plants, such as controlling other pathogens or enhancing root growth.

In 2016, the researchers will complete the field trials and analyze the results.

Down the road
Once they’ve analyzed the field trial data, the researchers will decide on their next steps. For instance, they might investigate whether the endophytes work well in combination with a fungicide. “Of course, we’re hoping an endophyte alone will work really well, but let’s say that either a fungicide alone or an endophyte alone does not provide effective control of the pathogen. Maybe the two together might,” Raizada says.

If one or more of the endophytes seem to have commercial potential for controlling Fusarium graminearum, then Raizada’s lab will collaborate with a company, and that company will undertake the necessary tests regarding human and ecosystem safety and so on, to develop commercial biocontrol products.

Looking at the bigger picture, Raizada sees exciting times ahead for endophytes in agriculture. According to Raizada, when his lab first started working on endophytes, agricultural input companies were showing only moderate interest in such research. But since then, companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have been investing more and more into microbial products like biocontrol products and biofertilizers. “The large seed companies are now looking at endophytes and other microbes as a new frontier. Within a few years, I think growers will increasingly see microbe-based products coated onto their seeds or available as sprays.”

He adds, “Where I see the best opportunity is with microbes that have multiple functions. Perhaps a microbe that has anti-Fusarium activity is also able to combat other pathogens and also has some other activity. For example, we are intensively studying microbes that can stimulate root growth when the soil is waterlogged in the spring. If the soil is waterlogged in the spring, the roots don’t grow, and then if you have a hot period, the plants don’t do well because they never developed a good root system.”

Multi-functional endophytes are a key research area for Raizada’s lab. The researchers have screened the endophytes in their collection for several functions such as phosphorus solubilization and root growth stimulation, in addition to Fusarium control, and they’ve already found some with multiple functions.

Raizada is also looking forward to many interesting discoveries about the intriguing world of endophytes. For example, his lab has studied in great detail the relationship between a fungal endophyte species and yew trees, and has developed a step-by-step picture of how this endophyte helps the tree fight pathogens. “When a tree branches, it creates cracks, and yew trees hyperbranch; they are always branching and always creating bark cracks. This endophyte swarms to the crack, that wound site, and then it releases a fungicide in fatty bodies. So it’s no different than if you have a cut and you apply a Band-Aid with antibiotics in it. The fatty barrier is similar to a plastic Band-Aid barrier, and it’s laced with a fungicide. It is amazing.”

He adds, “I think every endophyte has a fascinating story. And any individual plant has hundreds of species of endophytes. So I think there will be many years ahead of interesting discoveries to be made and some really fascinating biotech applications."


June 23, 2016 - The later hail occurs, the higher the chance of yield loss in canola, given that the plants have less time to recover. Plants with a broken main stem will likely die. Plants at the 6-leaf stage that lose most of the leaf area on the main stem can still live, but these leaves will not regrow. The plant will be delayed, and more of the yield potential — which will be lower than before the hail — will come from side branches.

Steps to consider:

Fertilizer top up. If a lot of leaf mass has been knocked off the plant, the nutrients in these leaves are unlikely to mineralize this crop year. So if crop recovery is strong, an in-crop nitrogen application can replace the nitrogen already taken up in this lost leaf mass. Results will be better if nitrogen supply was already low to moderate. Keep in mind that added nitrogen can also extend maturity, so consider the calendar date and crop stage with an eye on fall frost risk.

Fungicide if blackleg risk is high. Canola hailed at the 4- to 6-leaf stage can get more blackleg infection through damaged tissue. Fungicide might help, but only if you were considering using it in the first place. If the field was already at high risk of blackleg, hail damage increases that risk. If blackleg was not a major risk, fungicide probably won’t help much. NOTE that the ideal time to apply fungicide for blackleg is at the 2- to 4-leaf stage. Read more on blackleg risks and the spray decision.

As with any “new to you” in-crop application, leave a check strip or better yet leave a few untreated check strips. This will allow you to assess the benefit of your rescue treatment at harvest time.

An important step with hail damage at any time of the season is to call your hail insurance provider and keep them in the loop.

Photo courtesy of Ag-West Bio.


May 25, 2016 - Richard Keith Downey, O.C., F.R.S.C., received the 2016 Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province's highest honour, in a ceremony May 24, 2016 in Saskatoon.

Born in Saskatoon, Dr. Keith Downey earned degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and Cornell University. He joined the Agriculture Canada Research Station at Lethbridge as an alfalfa breeder, producing the world's first winter hardy, wilt resistant alfalfa variety before returning to the Saskatoon Research Station in 1958 to direct the oilseed breeding program. It was there Dr. Downey earned a world‐wide reputation as one of the "Fathers of Canola" for converting rapeseed into nutritionally superior canola.

As a plant breeder, he is associated with the release of 13 rapeseed/canola varieties and five condiment mustard varieties. His work with canola has resulted in the acreage expanding from only a few thousand in the 1950-60s to more than 20 million in 2014 and into a multi‐billion dollar industry for Saskatchewan and Canada. Equally important, canola oil is a significant factor in improving health and reducing health care costs due to its positive effect on cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Downey's expertise and contributions to scientific research are recognized and in demand world‐wide. He has held numerous professional and administrative positions with a broad range of organizations. He is an inductee in the Saskatchewan and the Canadian Agricultural Halls of Fame. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Agriculture Institute of Canada; and holds Honorary Doctorates in Science from the
University of Saskatchewan and Law from the University of Lethbridge.

Established in 1985, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit recognizes excellence, achievement and contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the province and its people. It acknowledges individuals who have made their mark in the arts, agriculture, business, industry, community leadership, occupations, professions, public service, research and volunteer service.

Read more about Dr. Keith Downey and the development of canola in Canada.


Test of sclerotia germination in a depot under optimal conditions in a growth chamber. Each flag marks the first appearance of apothecia from the 50 buried sclerotia. Photo by AAFC Saskatoon.

A pilot project to improve sclerotinia risk assessment in canola was launched in 2014 using a sclerotia-depot method, which was developed by Lone Buchwaldt and successfully used in Denmark for many years. Buchwaldt, now a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Saskatoon, set out to evaluate the usefulness of this method in Canada.

“We initiated this pilot project on a small scale in Saskatchewan to find out if extension specialists and growers were interested in helping with forecasting of sclerotia germination in commercial fields,” Buchwaldt explains. “Our objective was to evaluate the usefulness of this method in Western Canada in combination with the existing ‘sclerotinia stem rot checklist’ available from the Canola Council of Canada. This checklist is composed of six risk factors, one of which is the presence of apothecia.”

(An interactive version of the checklist can be found on SaskCanola’s website www.saskcanola.com; go to “Research,” select “Sclerotinia risk assessment” and select “Stem rot checklist.”)

A “depot” consists of sclerotia, inserted in small pockets made of white nylon mesh. “Visiting a depot buried in a commercial canola field is a convenient way to check if conditions are right for sclerotia germination in the surrounding fields,” Buchwaldt explains. She emphasizes it is important to use the checklist to determine the level of risk for each individual field. It is particularly important to note previous problems with sclerotinia and how often canola and other susceptible crops have been grown, since sclerotinia can be maintained by most non-cereal crops, many weed species and volunteer canola.

Sclerotia for the project have been collected from infected canola stems in different fields in Saskatchewan and sorted by size, so only the largest ones are used. “Sclerotia in nature are subjected to variable temperatures and wetness, so the sclerotia we used in 2014 were placed in the soil outside from October to April. However, this did not give us enough time to test their viability before they were sent to our volunteers in May,” Buchwaldt notes.

This step has been changed so now sclerotia receive several cycles of cold/wet treatments indoors, which allows enough time for a germination test in a growth chamber. “We know from the tests that the sclerotia are viable, because there was between 50 and 75 per cent germination success of the sclerotia used in 2015, as well as for those that will be used in the upcoming 2016 growing season.”

Buchwaldt says an excessive amount of rain in the spring of 2014 meant many depots were lost due to flooding, and warm dry conditions during flowering prevented sclerotia germination in other depots. In 2015, dry weather conditions leading up to and during canola flowering across much of Western Canada meant zero germination was reported, except in the Benito area (by Duck Mountain National Park) where six to eight per cent germination was reported. “The reports from volunteers typically included comments about drought conditions resulting in poor plant stands,” Buchwaldt notes. “Therefore it isn’t surprising we didn’t see germination.”

Canola disease surveys coordinated by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture indicate the majority of canola crops have some incidence of sclerotinia every year. However, Buchwaldt stresses yield is only affected when the main stem is completely colonized by sclerotinia, causing the typical whitish lesions with new sclerotia forming inside the stem. In 2014 and 2015 there were only a few records of fields with severe stem infection.

“Nevertheless, the surveys tell us that growers need to monitor weather conditions every year and use available forecasting tools to assess whether to apply a fungicide,” Buchwaldt says. “As a rule, the threshold for economical fungicide application is 15 per cent infected stems or higher. However, fungicides have to be applied
before symptoms appear and that is why risk assessment is so important.”

Pilot project gears up in 2016
In 2014, a total of 67 depots were established in Saskatchewan, managed by 37 volunteers. The project expanded in 2015 to 140 depots across Western Canada, with 67, 65 and eight depots in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively. The project is gearing up for the 2016 season, with 180 sclerotia-depots available for distribution.

“The sclerotia have undergone the necessary cold/wet treatment and are viable,” Buchwaldt says. “We welcome returning and new volunteers from across Western Canada and are hoping to see a greater number from Manitoba this year.”

Volunteers will receive depots by mail in early spring. Once the canola plants have germinated, the depots can be placed between the rows in the selected canola fields. Marking the depots with a stake helps in finding them during the growing season. Also, marking each germinating sclerotia with a toothpick makes counting easier.

Volunteers are asked to monitor the depots once per week during the vegetative growth stage and one or two times per week during flowering, particularly if apothecia are forming. Per cent sclerotia germination is submitted to a website using a cell phone or computer. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

During the growing season, the AAFC team in Saskatoon regularly updates the maps, making real-time sclerotia germination data available across Western Canada. The data are available until the end of flowering through SaskCanola’s website. The pilot project will finish with the growing season in 2017. Buchwaldt hopes that at that time, other people will be interested in taking over the sclerotia-depot idea.


May 17, 2016 - In canola, sclerotinia remains one of the most damaging diseases, and left unprotected, growers across Western Canada are witnessing yield losses of up to 50 per cent of their crop.

"With tighter rotations and increasing high moisture conditions during the critical period of canola flowering, growers are seeing an elevation in sclerotinia pressure throughout Western Canada over the past few years," said Glen Forster, Fungicide Technical Marketing Specialist in Western Canada for BASF.

According to Forster, when it comes to controlling the losses caused by sclerotinia with a fungicide application, timing is everything. In fact, extensive BASF research trials prove that optimal application timing of sclerotinia fungicides including Lance occurs at the 20 to 30 per cent bloom stage with up to 50 per cent bloom still providing positive economic returns. Spraying canola at this ideal stage gives the highest level of sclerotinia control, and maximizes the efficacy and return on the fungicide investment.

Over the past decade in both research plots and grower trials, Lance has consistently provided the highest level of sclerotinia control and the greatest yield increase in canola in both research program and field scale trials, and newly introduced Lance AG brings additional benefits including improved tolerance of minor stress during the critical flowering period.

"With Lance, it is really a tried, tested and true solution to protecting your canola crop," said Forster. "But to maximize results, proper scouting to determine application timing is crucial. In fact, many growers apply fungicide at the end of the application window and could be getting better results with better timing."

When it comes to detecting bloom stage however, it might not be as easy as it looks, as a canola crop can appear quite green from the road at the 20 to 30 per cent bloom stage. By the time the field is in its most yellow stage of flower, it is likely to be at the 50 per cent bloom stage, where the window of optimal application is either closed or closing, making it hard, if not impossible, to treat all acres effectively. To properly assess the timing window of application, Forster says that it is crucial for growers to be walking in their fields and scouting on a daily basis, and assessing 10 to 25 plants from different parts of their field.

"The average number of flowers on the main stem should be around 15 to 20 flowers including pods, making it an ideal time to spray," said Forster. Most importantly, you always want to spray before any petal drops from the canola flower."

Assessing your risk for sclerotinia
• Moisture – the higher the moisture prior to the canola flowering stage, the greater the risk for an outbreak of sclerotinia.
• Temperature – sclerotinia grows, thrives and develops in 15 to 25 degrees Celsius – common temperatures experienced throughout Western Canada during the spring and summer months.
• Crop Density – the greater the canopy in a field of canola, the greater the risk for sclerotinia, making it very important to protect high, dense canopies and high yield potential crops.
• Rotation – the tighter the rotation between canola crops or other host crops for sclerotinia, the greater the risk for infection.

"We've been using Lance for a number of years now on our farm," said Dan Ronceray, who farms along with his father near Somerset, Man. "We spray Lance at about the 20 per cent flower stage and feel that our canola gets us more bushels, protects the yield and protects our crop from sclerotinia. It's like buying insurance on our farm and I would definitely recommend it to any grower who wants more bushels in the bin."

For more information on Lance visit www.agsolutions.ca.


May 5, 2016, Ontario – Spring cereal planting is almost complete, and corn planting is at between 10 and 15 per cent of intended acreage, according to the latest field crop report. 

Cool weather over the last two weeks has kept disease levels low. Lush spring growth and forecasted temperatures are expected to increase disease development. Difference in planting date have resulted in varied growth stages and level of canopy closure, so scouting to appropriately time pest management activities is critical.

Weeds are now the top priority. Many fall germinated weeds may be beyond the stage for good weed control. Annual weeds are just beginning to emerge so scouting should be a priority.

There is some interest in growth regulators in anticipation of lodging issues. There are restrictions as to what growth regulators can be used in Ontario so contact your ag-retailer or grain elevator for more information about available products and timing.

Spring cereal planting is almost complete with planting condition being very good. Acreage is down from last year but comparable with 2013 and 2014.

As of mid-week, planting estimates are in the 10 to 15 per cent range of intended acreage. The cool, damp weather of the last two weeks has reduced planting progress. Producers have shown patience when soils were just not ready. The far southwest received rain last weekend which will delay planting on much of the heavier soils there and east end of north shore Lake Erie is also struggling to get started. Table 1 provides an overview of planting progress provincially over the past 11 seasons.

Table 1. Approximate planting date when >90% of corn acreage was planted in Ontario and the corresponding yield over the past 11 seasons. Source: OMAFRA

Year Approximate Date When >90% of corn acreage planted Final Grain Yield (bu/ac)
2015 May 10 170.6
2014 June 1 160.9
2013 May 20 160.5
2012 May 15 153.2
2011 June 10 152
2010 May 5 164
2009 June 5 142.6
2008 May 15 156.1
2007 May 15 133.8
2006 May 20 150.5
2005 May 20 145

Planting really kicked into gear mid-week and will continue at a frenzied pace through the next week. Despite the emphasis on early planting date to capture the greatest yield potential, this is always with the caveat that soil conditions must be suitable. Soils that are not suitable for planting can result in significant loss of yield potential. The yield potentials of today’s hybrids are tremendous. The old saying that the greatest yield potential of the crop is highest when it’s in the bag, and begins to decline when planted in the soil is true. Protect that yield potential by ensuring the ground is “fit”!

Reports of winter kill on forage stands remain low and are not expected to rise although with the cool weather the growth to date has been slow, so more cases may arise in the next couple of weeks. The slow growth may delay first cut dairy haylage, but things can change quickly now with some warmer weather. Where damage has been reported, it is small patches of usually low ground in fields as opposed to losing a whole field. As growth begins in earnest, scout for poor areas of the field and cut those crowns and roots open to look for white healthy tissue. Assess stands on a whole field basis.

Very little planting has occurred. Conditions in fields will be rapidly improving this week so once fields are fit, there should be nothing holding back planting. Seeding depth is a prime consideration for soybean management. At least one inch is recommended and  targets should be 1.25 to 1.5 inches as the soil warms up. Planting too deep with soybeans can be equally problematic since there are variety differences in hypocotyl length potential. Drills are consistently less reliable for uniform seeding depth than planters. Visually you don’t want to see much seed on the surface. If you do, the planting depth is most likely too shallow. Check planting depth often and as conditions change.

Canola: While planting has begun, progress is still low as soil conditions further north are less “fit”. Currently southern and northern growing areas are at about the same acreage. There is anticipation of acreage being up about 10 per cent this year over last. Early planting is typically beneficial for yield but more specifically fast emergence and bolting are the key in avoiding damage from flea beetle and swede midge.

Apr. 28, 2016 - Seeding has begun in Saskatchewan, although many producers are still working fields and controlling weeds, according to the first Saskatchewan crop report issued by Saskatchewan Agriculture.

To date (April 25), three per cent of the 2016 crop has been seeded, compared to the five-year (2011-2015) seeding average of less than one per cent.

Field conditions in the south have been generally favourable and many producers have been seeding for several weeks already. In the southwest, producers have eight per cent of the crop in the ground, while in the southeast, producers have four per cent seeded. There is little, if any, crop in the ground in the other parts of the province. Producers in those regions will begin seeding in the next couple of weeks, weather and field conditions permitting.



April 27, 2016, Ontario – Early season weed management is a limiting factor for quinoa production in Ontario. Currently there are no registered herbicides for use on the crop in Canada, which is a concern for the commercial development of locally produced quinoa. In 2015, an OMAFRA field project, with assistance from AAFC, evaluated crop injury and yield of Ontario field-grown quinoa with applications of various herbicides to better understand potential weed management options for the crop. | READ MORE

Apr. 12, 2016 - As part of the Government of Canada's new Innovation Agenda, Budget 2016 announced $30 million over six years to support advanced research in agricultural genomics to mitigate biological threats to agriculture.

Genomics is the science that studies DNA sequences and the complexity of their multiple interactions.

In order to help detect, assess, understand and prevent biological threats to agriculture and international trade, scientists need access to reference collections, including very high resolution images and detailed "DNA fingerprints," of known specimens. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) currently provides over 10,000 identifications and responds to over 1,000 requests for assistance in identification annually.

The funding will allow AAFC scientists to build on this important work by enabling them to DNA fingerprint and digitize specimens of pests, weeds, and diseases from AAFC's current physical collections containing over 17 million physical specimens of insects, plants, fungi, bacteria and nematodes, and create reference collections that will be used to identify high-risk organisms.

This will enhance Canadian capacity for science-based decision making to improve agricultural production and international trade, as well as safeguard agricultural biodiversity through better pest and disease management.


The 2015 drought in Alberta and Saskatchewan is part of a thousand-year history of recurring Prairie droughts. That history includes multi-year and even multi-decade droughts. If you overlay that difficult past with a warmer and possibly drier future, what might that mean for Prairie agriculture?

“Looking at the zone on the Prairies where most of the field crops are grown, the 2015 winter-spring is by far the driest in the past 68 years,” David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says. For the Prairie region, good quality weather records only go back 68 years, although records for the major Prairie cities start in the late 1800s. “Although parts of Manitoba had more precipitation than normal in 2015, parts of western Saskatchewan and Alberta were exceedingly bone dry.”

The severe drought conditions persisted in much of Alberta and Saskatchewan until late July, when rains came to parts of the drought-affected region, especially in Saskatchewan. Phillips gives an example: “In Saskatoon, from Jan. 1 to July 30 in 2015, the total precipitation, snow and rain, was 147 millimetres (mm). Looking at records that go back to the 1880s, the driest weather for January to July was in 2001, with 124.6 mm. But in 2015, during the first 26 days of July, there was only 18 mm of rain in Saskatoon, and then from July 27 to 31, there was 67 mm. So, from Jan. 1 to July 26, Saskatoon had a grand total of only 80 mm. Even in 2001, for that same period from Jan. 1 to July 26, the total was 112 mm, so it wasn’t even close to as dry as it was in 2015.”

Trevor Hadwen, agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, highlights some of the agricultural impacts of the 2015 drought in Alberta and Saskatchewan. “Early on, people were having to reseed crops because of poor emergence. Then it was just too dry for crops to emerge from the soil. So a lot of crops were later seeded, and by the time they got moisture, they were very late into the season and people were concerned that frost would be an issue in the fall.

“Another impact starting very early in the spring was that pasture and forage production was very poor. Very dry and delayed productivity of grasslands developed throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta, and there was a lot of concern for feed availability.”

Hadwen says the late July rains saved the crops in Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta, but other areas in Alberta continued to suffer drought conditions. “By the end of the summer, Saskatchewan was above average for rainfall despite the extremely dry spring. In Alberta, the drought areas really started to concentrate around the Edmonton region, and in some portions of the south. In southern Alberta, rainfall shortages were made up by some irrigation in the spring, helping those areas very significantly. So the main areas of impact for drought overall this summer ended up being in the Edmonton and northern Alberta regions.” By the end of October, significant drought conditions still persisted in central and northern Alberta.

Phillips notes the 2015 growing conditions could have been even worse. “The summer of 2015 was about the tenth warmest, but thank goodness it wasn’t any warmer than that because there would clearly have been more drought issues. The other thing that saved some growers, particularly in Saskatchewan, was that 2014 had been very wet, so the crops [in the spring of 2015] were probably sucking off that moisture from 2014.”

Past trends, future possibilities
Prairie droughts are definitely not a new phenomenon – just ask Dave Sauchyn from the University of Regina. He has been studying past climate trends on the Prairies by measuring the widths of annual growth rings in trees.

“We’ve been collecting dead wood for 25 years now; we have more than 8000 pieces. In order to grow, trees need light, heat, soil and water, and they have plenty of all of those in summertime except water. So, the pattern of tree growth tells us very much about the amount of water available every year for the last thousand years,” Sauchyn explains.

“We’ve found droughts that were much more severe and much more prolonged than anything we’ve seen on the Prairies in the last 120 years, including the 1930s. For example, just before Europeans came to the Canadian Prairies, there were droughts of 10 or 20 years in duration.”

Sauchyn’s research shows that, over the past 1000 years, the Prairie climate has included many droughts that have lasted a decade or longer.

He adds, “Based on the science, it is entirely possible that we could see prolonged drought some time in this century.”

In the coming decades, the Prairies are likely to continue getting warmer. “The most consistent scenarios show increasing temperatures, so a continuation of the trend observed over the last half century. And much of the warming is occurring in the winter, so the Prairies and most of Canada are getting less cold. Minimum temperatures – the temperatures at night and in winter – are rising,” Sauchyn explains.

Predictions relating to Prairie moisture conditions are more complex. “One trend is more precipitation, especially in winter, because as the temperature of the air increases, it can hold more moisture. Also, the source of our moisture is the oceans, and the oceans are getting warmer, so they are producing more water vapour,” Sauchyn says. Warmer, wetter weather sounds promising for Prairie crop production. However, the models also indicate the extra water may not necessarily arrive in ways that are best for crop production. Some of the extra water may arrive as winter rains, when crops aren’t growing, and the range of moisture conditions will likely be much larger, swinging between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions.

So the predictions present a mix of advantages and disadvantages for Prairie crop production, including opportunities to grow higher value crops that require a longer growing season, increased risks of drought stress, heat stress and waterlogging, and changes in disease, insect and weed issues as these organisms adapt to their changing environment.

“I think it is a matter of adapting, doing things differently, storing precipitation, using creative ways to do more with the precipitation you get, and trying to adapt your planting decisions to cushion the blow,” Phillips says. “By preparing for the changing weather and responding to it, we can mitigate the effects of it or capitalize on it. I think we have to be climate smart, weather smart, in what we do – try new things and be resilient enough to change according to how things are going.”

Overall, Phillips is optimistic about the future for Canadian crop production in the face of climate change. “There are many challenges today for growers, but incredible advances have been made. And I think better science will help deal with some of the challenges ahead. Also, I think we’re in better shape in Canada than in many other countries to be able to weather the storm, so to speak, of a warming climate. I think growers are willing to try new things, and with a changing climate, that will be one of our strengths. The inventiveness, adaptability and resiliency of growers make me think the future is bright.”  

Sauchyn has been studying adaptation and vulnerability to drought on the Prairies in recent years. He says, “Adaptation is nothing new to Prairie farmers. The Prairies have one of the more inhospitable climates in the world – throughout the history of Prairie agriculture, farmers have had to adapt to a climate that is colder and drier and has a much shorter growing season. They just have to keep adapting because the climate keeps changing like a moving target.”

TCWmidmarch drought


Although news and social media stories may give the impression that Prairie weather is getting stormier, the jury is still out on the actual trends. That’s mainly because Prairie records aren’t long enough to establish firm trends.

John Hanesiak, a University of Manitoba scientist who studies storms and atmospheric processes, explains that at least 30 years of good records are needed to start examining weather trends and the records for Prairie storms are just getting to that length.

“For tornadoes, our record is really good from about 1985 onwards. For heavy rains, hail, damaging windstorms and things like that, our record is not quite as good because people generally don’t report those events as well. A storm event could be quite local and Environment Canada may not necessarily know how bad it was. Also, sometimes there isn’t the ability for someone to go and verify that the storm event was severe.”

Another complication is that reporting biases can muddy the trends. “There is ‘population bias’: you get better reporting from areas with a lot of people than from places where there aren’t many people. [So as the population grows in a region, you get more reports.] And people are more prone to report these events nowadays than they used to be – people have cameras all the time, whereas even 10 years ago that wasn’t the case,” Hanesiak notes. He adds there are statistical methods to try to account for those biases, “but we don’t really know how good they are.”

Hanesiak summarizes the current situation for Prairie storm events: “For tornadoes, usually we see between 40 and 45 per year on the Prairies, based on a 30-year average; Manitoba gets about 10, and Alberta and Saskatchewan get about 15 or 20 each per year. There are usually about 30 strong wind events and about 15 heavy rain events per year. And there are about 60 hail events per year; most of those are in Alberta because of the proximity to the mountains.”

Some of Hanesiak’s research involves figuring out future trends in severe storm events. “One of the problems that has been plaguing us for the last while is that climate models are usually needed to do long-range projections and the climate models have spatial scales in the order of 120 to 200 kilometres. But we need to get down to 10 kilometres or less to resolve the detail that is needed for convective summer storms.”

Fortunately, regional climate models have recently been developed that have scales down to about 30 or 40 kilometres. So they can capture more details of the jet stream patterns and moisture patterns in the atmosphere than the climate models can. Hanesiak says, “We know that more moisture and stronger winds in the upper parts of the atmosphere are important for producing severe weather. So we can look at those kinds of things and see how they have changed, and try to tease out what we might expect in the future.”

Hanesiak’s research group is currently using this approach to run a hail model. The researchers are just starting to analyze the data from this work, but their initial findings are intriguing. “It looks like we might expect to see fewer hail days in the future on the Prairies, but when they do happen they will tend to have more larger hail, so they’ll have more damage potential,” Hanesiak says.

“Also, there seems to be a seasonal shift. At present, [in the southern Prairies] we tend to see most of our hail and severe weather around the June-July time period. But that seems to be potentially shifting by mid-century toward the April-May time period, with less hail in July-August. The northern Prairies and the Northwest Territories don’t see that many hail events now, but in the future it looks like their June-July-August period will be quite changed, with more frequent and more severe hail events.”

Hanesiak’s research group is planning to do more of this type of research. For instance, next year, one of Hanesiak’s graduate students will be using the same approach to look into future trends in Prairie tornado events.


You don’t need a lot of acreage to get into hop production. In Ontario, there are perhaps 30 commercial hops producers; together, they harvest about 60 acres total in the province each year – trailing top Canadian hops producer B.C. at 80 acres and Quebec at about 70 acres annually. 

“Hops operations start in the two- to three-acre range,” says Evan Elford, new crop development specialist for Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). “Tipping from a hobbyist into commercial production, you’re looking at about half an acre.”

Acreage might be small, but as the craft beer movement continues to grow, demand for hops is increasing in the province.

Elford is a member of the research team for a three-year project called “Hops: a potential niche crop for Ontario,” led by University of Guelph professor Mary Ruth McDonald. The project began in 2013.

“In 2009 and 2010, we were getting a lot of questions from growers and people who were interested in growing hops,” says Elford. “They were asking which cultivars overwinter and/or yield the best in Ontario, which cultivars brewers want to source, and what are the resins – alpha and beta essential oils – like in the different cultivars? And what is the market like?

“Since there was an increasing demand for that type of information, we thought we’d better get a start on looking at this so we can provide information to growers and the industry at large, and so that we can get services to growers,” he says.

The project, funded by OMAFRA and run by the University of Guelph, includes a three-year cultivar evaluation trial as well as a market study.

“Hops were historically grown in Ontario in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At that time, because of disease and prohibition, the industry declined, but we’re starting to see it re-emerge,” Elford says.

Due to a combination of factors – the local food movement and demand for locally-sourced ingredients, along with a hops shortage back in the mid-2000s that saw brewers scrambling to find the volume and varieties they needed – business is once again booming in Ontario.

“Field crop producers have been expanding into hops – we see it mainly from horticultural producers, but also people who are new to agriculture, who see the potential for hops as a new, high-value, low-acreage crop,” Elford says.

“If growers can produce a quality hop they seem to be able to sell whatever they grow,” he says. “That’s an encouraging side of production. And we see more craft breweries popping up every year. That’s encouraging as well.”

Labour-intensive crop
Growing hops is not for the faint of heart.

A perennial horticultural crop, hops are grown on 18 to 20-foot trellises long-term – a minimum of 15 years on a site. They can be grown on many soil types as long as drainage is good, says Elford, but under Ontario conditions hops usually require supplemental irrigation.

“It is a very labour-intensive crop and you need three years before you get to optimal yields before you start to get payback from the crop, and optimizing your irrigation as well as your fertility are key to getting optimal yields,” he says.

Hops require careful cultural management such as leaf stripping, pruning and crowning to control pests and diseases.

Specialized equipment is also a must for hops production on operations of three acres and up – air blast sprayers, special harvesters, as well as machines for drying and pelletizers for pelletizing hops are all required. Hops are usually vacuum packed, so nitrogen-purging vacuum pack equipment is also commonly used.

According to Cathy Bakker, a University of Guelph technician working on the variety evaluation trials at the Simcoe Research Station, any growers looking to get into hops for the first time should do their research first. “I would certainly caution people that if you’re used to growing field crops, this is completely different,” she says.

The OMAFRA study will be a good beginning for interested growers wondering which hops are worth the investment.

Bakker says the cultivar trials evaluated nine common commercial cultivars –Cascade, Hallertauer, Sterling, Northern Brewer, Zeus, Crystal, Chinook, Galena and Centennial, as well as a naturalized variety found in the wild, called Bertwell.

These varieties, a mix of aroma and bittering hops, are commonly used in the craft brewing industry.

For hops, yield is measured in fresh (or wet) weight, as well as dried-down weight, as hops can be sold and used in either state. Of the 10 varieties in the trial, Zeus performed the best two years out of three in terms of yield. In 2015, Zeus yielded 6000 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) at harvest moisture and 1594 kg/ha at eight per cent moisture. Galena, Cascade and Chinook also performed well overall.

Bakker says hops might be time consuming and labour-intensive, but it’s a labour of love. “I think you have to have a passion for it – and you can make money on it,” she says.

As for Elford, he’s already looking forward to the Great Ontario Hop Beer Competition at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention next year – a competition he co-organizes with OMAFRA colleague Jason Deveau to evaluate new beer styles and allow hops growers to collaborate with craft breweries. “This year we turned people away after the competition opened. We’re looking at expanding that next year,” he says.

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