The weather may have been tough during the end of 2018 and the first half of 2019, but that didn’t stop some Ontario farmers from growing a decent winter canola crop.
Particularly for those in Essex and Chatham-Kent, this year’s winter canola proved fairly resilient.
Why it matters: While not widespread, both winter and spring canola are successfully grown in in Ontario — particularly the southwest, making it a viable option for rotation diversification.
“We don’t take too many lessons away from an odd year like this… I was very happy with each delay in spring planting to have it in the ground. I wish I had more of it in the ground,” says Greg Iler, a Harrow-area grain farmer, who has introduced winter canola into his rotation.
Iler says his winter canola, like many wheat fields, didn’t achieve as much pre-winter growth as he would have liked. This led to bare spots in the spring, though the crop still yielded well when it was harvested in mid-July.
Iller’s experience reflects how Ontario’s winter canola did as a whole. According to Meghan Moran, canola and edible beans specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, yields seen across the province have thus far ranged from 50 to 65 bushels per acre. At 50 pounds per bushel, that amounts to 2,500 to 3,250 lbs., which she says are good yields and higher than the 2,400-lb. provincial average for spring-planted canola.
Moran says those returns occurred despite early-season growth issues caused by the damp weather. Because winter canola is not widespread, she says longer-term yield averages are not entirely known.
She also says no other major pest or disease issues were observed this year.
The delayed spring growing season affected how many producers could double-crop with soybeans, however. Moran says most farmers, whether in Essex or Grey County, couldn’t harvest until mid-July. This is two to three weeks later than ideal. As of July 24, she says some growers might still have canola in the field.
Iler was one who intended to plant soybeans, but decided against it.
“(I) chose not to because it was past the halfway point of July, but would have done so had it been the first week,” he says.
With the canola crop standing well over five feet tall in the most southern counties, lodging was an issue for some growers at harvest, who were straight-cutting rather than swathing, says Moran. Drying was also an issue, with 10 per cent moisture being ideal.
“In another year we’d like to see the crop being harvested in more normal conditions, and earlier,” she says. “Earlier the better for getting soybeans in.”
Good rotation alternative
Moran adds canola in general offers a good diversification option. While winter-planting opens double-crop soybean possibilities, spring canola helps with early establishment of winter wheat and higher wheat yields by consequence. Research on the viability and potential of canola in Ontario is ongoing, and Moran says it’s hoped more farmers will have greater success with winter canola in years with more forgiving climatic conditions.
Overall, Ontario farmers grew about 2,000 acres of winter canola in 2018-19, which Moran says is “still a low acreage crop.” However, it’s also not a bad-paying one. Generally decent commodity prices and the ability to follow with shorter season soybeans continues to attract more growers to winter canola.
“We’re often seeing it around $500 per tonne. That’s kind of the range we look for, maybe more if you have to truck it a long way,” says Moran.
For Iler, good returns are indeed an attractive feature.
“I think it can be a crop that brings a decent income,” he says. “I will plant it again this fall.”