New winter cropping options for Ontario farmers

New varieties push winter canola and winter barley into crop rotations

Winter canola’s popularity is growing and winter barley is re-emerging as a crop rotation option for Ontario farmers.

“By my estimation, we have 4,000 acres in the ground right now, up from about 1,500 the last few years,” said Meghan Moran, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs canola and dry bean specialist.

Why it matters: Winter canola and barley varieties can increase profit, provide soil retention, offer a new rotation option, and in the case of barley, provide a livestock feed alternative.

Moran said the adoption of winter canola by farmers is due to the Ontario Canola Growers Association’s Canola Yield Challenge, in which consistently strong showings of winter varieties led them to secure the top three yields this year. 

Ian, Nick and Ben Toll, of Blenheim, claimed top ranking with Mercedes at 5,743 pounds per acre. Nathan Van Overloop, of Chatham, secured second with Popular at 4,429 lb. per acre. Robert and Dallas Hunter, of Wellington, Prince Edward County, yielded 3,770 lb. per acre with Mercedes. 

“Over 5,000 lb. to the acre on that top field. That’s over 100 bushels to the acre in the best parts of that field,” said Moran. “It was a really incredible looking crop, so there’s a real opportunity for profitability here, especially at current canola prices.”

Both winter canola and winter barley provide a double-cropping opportunity.

The Tolls took advantage by planting soybeans after their winter canola harvest and saw pretty reasonable soybean yields, said Moran.

Meghan Moran encourages growers not to pull the trigger too quickly if winter canola looks a bit rough in spring. The plants often bounce back if planted early enough to be well established. photo: Meghan Moran

Joanna Follings, OMAFRA cereal specialist, said winter barley pairs well with cover crops and double cropping because it is harvested earlier than winter wheat and adds value as livestock feed.

“There is also an opportunity to double crop with soybeans if you have a shorter season soybean variety,” Follings said. “(Winter barley) comes off a few weeks earlier than winter wheat so we can get that crop in relatively early and have pretty good success with that.”

Unlike winter barley, winter canola opportunities are limited to southern Ontario due to the overlap with spring canola in Northern Ontario, although there are plots in the Bruce Peninsula and some growing success in Prince Edward County. 

“I think some of the heavier soils and cold springs might be a challenge,” she said. “But through southern Ontario, it’s certainly a good area for growing winter canola (with) really high yields coming out of that area.”

Before introducing winter canola into the rotation, Moran suggested farmers select fields with light soils and good drainage and perform a two-year herbicide history. Moran said some herbicide products have a two-year re-crop interval, and some winter wheat herbicides can damage winter canola. 

Seeding rates for winter canola are lower than spring canola at about four lb. of seed maximum per acre because of the spacing requirements. 

“When the plants are too close together, they set their crowns well above the soil surface, and their growing points are exposed,” she said. “That’s a winterkill risk, so we want them spaced out with those growing points tucked into the soil surface.”

Due to slug populations harboured in the residue, Moran is not sure if winter canola would be a good fit in no-till operations.

“It doesn’t take much residue to harbour slugs and they can do a lot of damage in a short time,” she said. “They eat that canola as soon as it comes out of the ground.”

Keep markets in mind

Winter barley needs a marketing plan before being introduced into the rotation, said Follings. 

“Either have a plan to feed that to your livestock, have an arrangement with a neighbour to take that winter barley, or talk to your grain merchandiser in advance,” she said, adding no one wants to be stuck with barley they can’t sell.

Although genetics are making inroads, winter barley is still susceptible to winterkill and early planting is a critical part of management. She said it pairs well with canola and edible beans. 

“Some of the new genetics are actually showing some really good promise (of overcoming winterkill),” Follings said, pointing to Quentin Martin, of Cribit Seeds, whose field of winter barley endured ice over the winter and freeze-thaw events and snow in May but still provided decent yields. 

Performance testing with new genetics is promising and produced between 87 bushels per acre on Brookston Clay to 150 bushels per acre at the Tupperville site with the most north-easterly site, Winterbourne, yielding a respectable 138 bu. per acre. 

Winter malted barley trials, run by Eric Page of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Harrow, have produced 132 to 177 bushels per acre, comparable to common varieties that average 135 bushels per acre, said Follings. 

Four varieties have received interim registration for two years and will be available for purchase in 2022. Follings is optimistic that continued testing will provide sufficient data to get full registration by next January.

“There’s lots of promise, it’s really exciting after 30-something years to have some new genetics coming to market, much like what’s happening with winter canola,” she said.

About the author

Reporter

Diana Martin

Diana Martin has spent more than two decades in the media sector, first as a photojournalist and then evolving into a multi-media journalist. Five years ago she left mainstream media and brought her skills to the agriculture sector. She owns a small farm in Amaranth, Ont.

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