Growers were looking for more than just canola knowledge from CanoLAB this year. Soybeans also stole the show.
Put on annually by canola commodity groups, CanoLAB is usually a major stop for everything from canola fertilization and weed control to disease pressures and beneficial insects. This was the first year, however, that the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers joined the two-day event in Brandon and Dauphin March 14-15.
“It was really important for us to partner up with the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers (MPSG) to get some soybean stations here, because we recognize that there are a growing number of acres, but in addition to that, that more growers are growing both crops, so how to manage that rotation,” Roberta Galbraith, member relations manager with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, said.
“We see it as a win-win, because we want to get producers looking at a longer rotation between their canola production, but it’s got to be another profitable crop for them to do that. We’re hoping that soybeans are going to be a profitable option for them moving forward. Certainly for lots of people it is already, but some of the new regions are struggling with the agronomy piece of that.”
The newly minted SoyLAB ran alongside canola sessions. Sclerotinia management in canola returned, counterbalanced by phytophthora root rot in soybean sessions. Weed management, insect factors, soybean inoculation and nodulation and plant establishment for both crops also featured.
Laura Schmidt, MPSG extension co-ordinator, said her group was approached by the Canola Council of Canada about adding soybeans to the event.
“Everyone’s been really engaged, which has been awesome to see,” Schmidt said. “(We’re) getting a lot of farmer questions, getting a lot of agronomist questions and I think they really enjoy having both crops incorporated because it’s really opened up what they can all learn at one event.”
Soybeans have been on a steady and exponential rise in the province over the last decade, including areas once solidly considered “canola country,” although the crop may look less attractive after a dry season led to some disappointing yields last year.
About 2.3 million acres of soybeans went into the ground in 2017 compared to 3.16 million acres of canola. Additionally, many of those acres are outside of the Red River Valley and its longer growing seasons, spreading west and north as growers are enticed by wider profit margins and new short-season varieties.
The pulse’s growing popularity has led both farmers and agronomists to ponder production practices as the field dynamic shifts.
“From what I’ve seen, there’s definitely some conversations sparked,” Schmidt said. “There’s obviously a lot of things that apply to both crops and that we consider when we incorporate both crops into a rotation so it’s kind of cool that they’re starting to see more of that ‘whole picture’ approach.”
Galbraith noted that CanoLAB and SoyLAB speakers were coached on how to integrate the other crop into their talks.
Ray Dowbenko, senior agronomy specialist with Nutrien, was one of those speakers. Invited to speak on canola fertility, Dowbenko’s talk branched into how nutrition could be managed across years.
In particular, he said, phosphorus could be built up during a cereal year in a three-year rotation between cereals, soybeans and canola.
Cereals are the most tolerant of phosphorus between those three crops, he said, while too much phosphorus risks stunting both canola and soybeans, particularly if the nutrient is placed too close to the seed.
John Heard, provincial nutrition specialist, likes that idea.
“Two of those crops have challenges with putting on enough phosphorus with them in order to match the removal amounts, and that’s with canola and soybeans,” he said. “You can’t put all that phosphorus, generally, with the seed, so we need to find another way to do that. Many farmers have side-row banded or maybe mid-row banded, so they’ve got flexibility to do that, but those who are limited to seed placement, they need to find a different way and one of those ways, within that rotation, is simply to bank more in the wheat year.
“It takes some discipline to do that,” he added. “The banker may say, ‘Why are you spending so much money on wheat?’ You have to remind yourself, I’m not just feeding the wheat crop here, I’m also feeding my following soybean or canola crop.”
That matches with Heard’s comments during a round of soil nutrition updates earlier this year. Heard pointed to data out of the International Plant Nutrition Institute showing an upwards yield trend when phosphorus was applied with wheat seed. In contrast, canola and pea yields peaked at 20 pounds per acre when placed with the seed, followed by a sharp turndown.
Those rates will not match removal, Dowbenko warned, echoing Heard. Canola needs 60-75 pounds an acre of P2O5, he said, 50-60 pounds of which will be tied up in the grain. Soybean and wheat need to sit at 32-35 pounds an acre (29-32 pounds of which leave with the harvest) and 44-53 pounds an acre (32-39 pounds to the grain), respectively.
Heard says Manitoba fields typically need around 40 pounds of phosphorus per acre per year to balance removal.
Heard pointed out that soybeans are also sensitive to low-potassium soils, something that is a problem in some areas of Manitoba.
“That may be something that farmers need to keep their eye on in the soil test and be prepared to address that as a yield-limiting factor,” he said.
Like phosphorus, Heard has pointed out that potassium is less prone to move in the soil and can be banked year to year. Nitrogen, however, is more mobile in the soil and hard to extend past a given crop year.
“You fertilize by the crop with nitrogen,” he said. “But some of the other nutrients do lend themself to a systems approach or a rotational fertilization.”
Heard stressed that nutrient plans will vary from farm to farm depending on soil tests, equipment and rotations.
CanoLAB is one, but not the only, traditionally canola-based event to broaden its focus this year. Last year, Canolapalooza highlighted technology, new research and other canola production knowledge at Portage la Prairie.
This year, a similar event will extend to corn, soybeans, oats, sunflowers, flax, wheat and barley. The newly dubbed Crops-a-palooza will be held July 25 at AAFC Portage la Prairie.