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The future of sustainable canola production

Exploring the Canola Council of Canada’s goals and strategic plans for success.


August 6, 2021
By Curtis Rempel

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Canola Council of Canada’s strategic plan calls for 52 bushels per acre sustainable canola production by 2025. Curtis Rempel, vice-president of crop production and innovation with the Canola Council of Canada, discussed how Canadian farmers can get there in his update at the Top Crop Summit, Feb 23-24, 2021. 

The Canola Council of Canada’s strategic plan was based on the global demand for canola’s high-quality oil with its healthy profile. When the plan was developed in 2014, yields were around 33 to 35 bushels and have grown, but in the last five years, they seem to have plateaued around 40 to 41 bushels per acre. 

Genetics x environment x management are the factors that drive yield. 

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Environment is out of our control so we have to use Management – agronomy – to try to climate-proof our canola crops. Over the last few years the weather has been very variable with wet, delayed harvests, unseasonably high temperatures during canola flowering, and some extremely windy events. 

The life sciences companies and plant breeders have done a tremendous job in developing hybrid canola varieties with the genetics to hit 52 bushels per acre. For growers, choosing genetics carefully and then applying good agronomic practices is how we will reach 52 bushels per acre. 

The Canola Council has four pillars of agronomy to help reach that target. The first is stand establishment. It is really critical to get the crop off to a good start. Select genetics for each field rather than one hybrid for the entire farm. Know what is in the field for crop disease so that you can seed a hybrid with resistance if one is available. Ensure good seed and fertilizer separation

The optimum target plant stand is five to eight plants per square foot. Understand how Thousand Kernel Weight can impact seeding rates. The Canola Council has seed rate calculator tools to help determine the appropriate seeding rates based on germination rate and expected seedling mortality. 

The fertility pillar uses the 4Rs of right rate, product, timing and placement. I’ll make a controversial statement, based on a lot of research, that I think canola is under-fertilized on the Prairies. Canola is high in oil and protein content, and both need nitrogen in a balanced program with phosphate, potash and sulfur. 

The third pillar is integrated pest management covering insect pests and diseases. Scouting is extremely important. Find out what is in the fields, even after harvest you can scout and find evidence of blackleg, Verticillium wilt and Sclerotinia. 

I think farmers and agronomists have done a great job of using economic thresholds to guide insecticide and fungicide applications. They don’t get enough credit for using economic thresholds.  

Harvest management is the fourth pillar. Understand what your harvest losses are. Typically this takes time to measure, but ask what is the level of loss that you are willing to put up with. Harvest losses change throughout the day with changing temperature and relative humidity, so one setting for the entire day won’t minimize the losses. If losses are exceeding one or two bushels per acre, ask if it is worth stopping to check losses and make adjustments.

What the life science companies have achieved is unbelievable. They’ve developed genetics to deal with diseases like blackleg, clubroot pathogen variability, and the threat from Verticillium wilt. The breeders have developed pod shatter resistant hybrids. And with all these traits, they have kept the quality attributes as well. For growers, the next step is to have a more nuanced approach selecting hybrids for each field. Overall, we are getting the genetics to hit our strategic target. 

The biggest challenge heading into 2021 and beyond will be how to manage in the warmer/drier cycle we seem to be in. Strategies could be to grow shorter season hybrids to try to beat the heat during flowering. Farmers should monitor soil temperature and moisture and make planting timing decisions to achieve targeted plant stands in order to optimize yield and minimize risk. The whole disease continuum from seeding to harvest will have to be monitored and managed. 

There will be some new market opportunities in the coming years. The Canola Council is working with provincial and federal governments to see how canola production and biofuels fit into renewable energy initiatives. 

The global movement to more plant-based protein will also benefit the canola industry. Pulse proteins are wonderful as well, but there is an opportunity to blend pulse and canola proteins to get a really favourable nutritional profile. 

Canola protein will also continue to play an important role in animal protein. There is a saying that it takes good protein to make good protein, and canola has a good fit for monogastric animals, in dairy and in aquaculture. 

My final message is to scout, scout and scout. Know what is happening in your fields and manage accordingly.