Canola craziness didn’t pan out

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Extension agronomists told farmers not to try planting their soggy canola fields by sprinkling seed on top of the ground last spring.

And when it became clear farmers were going to try it anyway, either from an airplane or high-clearance field equipment, they offered clear recommendations for how to avoid a complete wreck.

One of those recommendations was to be sure to follow up with some form of tillage to get that seed under the soil’s cover — even by just a little.

They weren’t kidding. While there are some very lovely-looking canola fields just finishing off their bloom scattered across the province this summer, there are also some ugly ones that will hardly be worth the time and expense to harvest.

Farmers and agronomists are seeing a distinct difference in the broadcast-seeded fields in which the seed was incorporated and where it was left atop the ground.

One field in the Carman area could be a textbook example. The field was too wet to seed using conventional equipment, so the producer contracted an aerial applicator. He was able to follow up with tillage on part of the field, but the rest of it was still too wet to carry the equipment. So he left it alone.

It didn’t seem to make much difference to emergence. But soon after, the crop on the non-tilled part of the field began to falter and the weeds began to take over.

When the producer moved in with the herbicide that should have killed everything but the crop, he found that on the non-tilled portion of the field, it killed the crop too.

As predicted, the broadcast seeding without incorporation resulted in shallow and exposed roots, which made it vulnerable to herbicide injury.

The moral of the story? If your fields are too wet to cross with equipment, you shouldn’t be trying to seed.

The farmers who ignored that advice are left with the costs they incurred to seed, plus the cleanup to get ready for next year.

Yet no one is telling those farmers ‘I told you so,’ or questioning their sanity — at least not to their faces.

Truth be told, the canola star shines so brightly in the Canadian Prairies right now, just about everybody wanted to believe the improbable was possible.

Farmers truly love growing canola, and there’s no question that when the crop comes in like it should, it brings in a lot of cash.

The Canola Council of Canada is fond of saying the crop has become the most profitable one Prairie farmers grow, noting it accounts for one-quarter of $22.4 billion in total farm cash receipts, far surpassing the former “king wheat.”

However, that’s only partly true. Canola is also an expensive crop to grow. In fact, when the costs of seed, herbicides, fungicides etc. are added up, and if yields turn out to be average, canola’s overall profitability in Manitoba falls down the list to sit behind sunflowers, oats, corn and even flax. But it’s still better than wheat.

And growing it has never been easier with the herbicide-tolerant production systems, which allow farmers to spray to kill all of the plants in the field except the crop.

It’s one of the few crops farmers grow on the Prairies in which the domestic processors consume as much or more than the export market. The demand for it seems insatiable.

Farmers have more than doubled their canola production over the past decade. The canola council’s goal of reaching 15 million tonnes of production by 2015 seems easily within reach.

Unlike wheat, in which it makes sense to rail the raw commodity closer to major population centres for processing and then truck the flour to local destinations — hence the lack of flour milling on the Prairies — canola oil markets are more dispersed.

So it’s better to truck the raw commodity to a local processor and then transport the oil and meal out by rail. That’s good news as far as keeping some of the value-added processing jobs and revenues closer to home.

At the core of this success story is ongoing research that continues to conclude canola oil is a nutritionally superior vegetable oil for consumers.

Beyond all that, there’s something about a canola field in full golden bloom, with a chest-high canopy so thick you could lie on it, that goes to the heart of what producers like to do best, which is produce.

Did farmers go a little crazy trying to plant canola this year? You bet. But when it comes right down to it, it’s a lot more fun being crazy than depressed.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email:


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