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Canola Discovery Forum focuses on short-, long-term research

It gets new agronomic information to farmers faster and exposes researchers to the questions farmers want answered

Canola growers can cut their seeding rates under good seeding conditions, but they might have to re-evaluate insect thresholds and weed control timing.

That was just one of the many pieces of information to come from the Canola Discovery Forum held in Winnipeg Oct. 25 to 27.

“The evidence is starting to show we can probably get away with lower seeding rates based on the vigour and the establishment ability of our (canola) hybrids,” Curtis Rempel, the Canola Council of Canada’s vice-president of crop production and innovation, said in an interview following the meeting that brings farmers, researchers, provincial oilseed specialists and council agronomists together annually.

The meeting, which this year was limited to about 200 people, has evolved since the first one in 2013.

“It is a venue to take research and translate it into knowledge and practical information for growers in our value chain,” Rempel said. “The other part of it is to take feedback from growers and industry as to what are the gaps and the opportunities to further canola production and take that back to the research community — a two-way street.”

Instead of waiting for researchers, some of whom are funded by canola growers, to publish their results, they are encouraged to present their findings so the information gets to farmers faster. There is also a summer tour in conjunction with the meeting.

“The idea is to get researchers into the farmers’ fields and to get farmers into researchers’ plots,” Rempel said.

Another goal is building connections between farmers, researchers, industry and agronomists to build a strong research network.

“We can’t do research with one lab in isolation anymore,” he said, adding it takes co-operation to get funding.

Instead of research starting at the bench, it starts in the field, goes to the bench and then back to the field, Rempel said.

“We felt it’s also an efficient use of research dollars doing this,” he said.

Besides sharing research results, the meeting identifies research gaps — questions farmers want answers to, which often requires long-term study and funding.

Genetics is one of those areas, Rempel said. The search is on to find ways to make canola a more efficient user of nitrogen, more resistant to insects and diseases and more stress tolerant.

New genetic tools help identify genes in the parents of modern canola (Brassica napus) that can improve the crop while retaining its end-use quality.

In the past researchers couldn’t tell which genes nature had deleted. Now that they can, the next move is putting them back without “messing up canola quality.”

“Ag Canada is working on it,” Rempel said. “There are university academics working on this. If I am looking at setting up canola to be profitable and sustainable for growers for the next 30 years, this is important work. We need to identify it and we need to make sure that it is on the funding cycle.”

The Canola Council of Canada’s goal is for Canadian farmers to average 52 bushels an acre by 2025.

Scientists are also looking at how to use nitrogen more efficiently when growing canola, including slow-release forms of nitrogen or top-up applications. The latter requires rain near the application time so the nutrient is taken up by the plant.

“It seems because of our incredibly short growing season, relative to Europe and Australia, timing (of nitrogen applications) will be important,” Rempel said. “Fall- or spring-applied fertilizer ahead of the crop is still probably going to be normative. So then what can we do with the timed-release materials? Because that material seems to be optimized for corn, which has a different critical period for nitrogen than canola does.”

There’s also research that shows some parts of Western Canada — probably on lighter soils — need more phosphorus as well.

Work continues on shatter-resistant varieties of canola.

“It is a game changer I think for canola,” Rempel said. “We know that it has very good value.”

But more work needs to be done on the optimal timing for straight cutting canola, when to desiccate and what desiccant to use.

“There is no doubt the value is significant, but now we’ve got it, how do we optimize this technology?

“It’s again, these classic applied research questions. One size does not fit all.”

As for changes in target plant canola plant populations the recommendation has been seven to 10 per square metre, but there’s evidence five to eight is better.

“This is one of the cases where the science is following what is happening in the field,” Rempel said.

“I think farmers are leading the science here right now.”

But the council’s interim recommendation will likely be six to eight plants per square metre, Rempel said.

“The yield decline from having too much seed is very slow and low,” Rempel said. “The yield decline from having too few plants in the field is very quick.”

Fall isn’t the best time for farmers to attend a meeting, but agronomists need the latest information now so they can share it at farm meetings over the winter, Rempel said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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