Results from the 2020 Canola Challenge are in, with winners achieving yields between 3,108 and 5,743 pounds per acre.
Why it matters: Winter canola has made inroads as a financially viable alternative crop throughout Ontario.
Carrie James, general manager for the Ontario Canola Growers’ Association, says between 20 and 30 producers participate in the challenge each year, including both spring and winter canola growers.
She adds winners often come from the province’s central regions, though it was encouraging to see northern growers. including producers in New Liskeard and Earlton, making it into the top six places, she says.
“The yields came off really high all over. But, you know, it was an optimal year. The year before was good but not as good. It was a significant winterkill year,” says James.
This year was a bumper year for Ian, Nicholas and Benjamin Toll of Blenheim. Taking first place with 5,743 lbs. per acre, Ian says everything went without a hitch — from a well-timed, post-seeding rain, to a complete absence of weed pressure.
“The day after we planted, we had three-tenths (eight millimetres) of rain, which sped germination up. We had a 100 per cent stand… Everything just worked out textbook,” says Ian Toll. “I didn’t even have to use herbicides” says Robert Hunter.
“The overall yield was just phenomenal. And the $500 a ton price isn’t too bad to look at either.”
Prompted to seed an additional money maker when other commodity prices were lower, Toll’s contest winning harvest was only his second attempt at growing winter canola. The third crop has since been planted.
Lucking out with moisture
Along with his son David and grandson Dallas, Robert Hunter of Wellington achieved third place with 3,770 lbs. of Mercedes winter canola. They seeded four lbs. per acre in the first week of September with accompanying fertilizer (30 lbs. of both MAP and K-Mag, plus 60 lbs. of potash), then applied urea early in the spring as well as at bolting.
Sulphur and boron were also applied in the spring. Harvest is done via straight-cut, though they used to employ a swather.
Overall, Robert says growing conditions on much of their acreage in Prince Edward County was not ideal through the 2019-20 season.
Low rainfall caused significant yield losses across their corn, soybean and wheat crop. Several days of intense heat near the end of canola flowering also didn’t help. But luckily, the area designated for the competition happened to stay on the wetter side through the early summer.
The previous year 2018 to 2019 “was the worst winterkill in 30 years in fall wheat and winter canola. That’s versus 2019 and 2020, which was the best for both winter crops. Our 2020 harvest was probably better than normal for our area,” says Robert Hunter.
In all years, he also says, wheat seed left in the field can be an issue for fall-planted canola. They manage this with Roundup and light tillage with harrows to control volunteers, plus an additional herbicide application just before germination. Assure is applied post-germination if wheat and grass weeds are still a problem.
“Our soils are often shallow clay and not tile drained with many saucers where fall canola will usually die…Winter canola is like growing a vegetable crop. It takes a lot of love and attention, plus a lot of fertilizer. And if winter kills the canola, it leaves messy spots all over the field. With no canola and only green weeds, it’s a problem.”
Separate insurance plans
Those achieving top spots in the Canola Challenge generally achieve yields in the 3,300 lbs. per acre range — amounts that James says are considered very good for spring canola. Provincial averages for spring canola are closer to 2,200 lbs. Winter canola averages, though, are not as well-defined.
“Agricorp provides us with tonnage averages, and at this point Agricorp does not have a separate crop insurance plan for winter and spring plan. There is only one canola crop insurance plan,” says James. “We are working with Agricorp on a change to separate plans for winter and spring canola, but due to minimal winter canola acres up until spring 2020, that was not possible.
“Seed purchased for 2021 indicates there will be a winter canola acreage increase, and we are hopeful separate insurance plans may be available for the 2022 growing year.”