When growing a 70-bushel-an-acre canola crop it’s the “little things that matter.”
That’s advice Florian Hagmann, who farms at Birch Hills, in north-central Saskatchewan, offered farmers attending Ag Days here Jan. 16.
Hagmann, whose 2017 canola averaged 70 bushels on 5,000 acres, emphasized good agronomy is more important than new equipment. So is hard work and applying more inputs.
“I don’t use fancy equipment,” he said.
“Equipment is a small part of the farm. It will help you do more acres, but if you have the (right) seed placement and the right product (nutrient) placement that’s what makes success.”
He likened it to grandma’s baking. Success comes from the ingredients and baking skills, despite the old pots and pans.
And while pushing higher yields adds risk, which needs to be considered, there is also the potential for a bigger payday, Hagmann said.
A 50-bushel-an-acre canola crop worth $10 a bushel grosses $500 an acre, netting Hagmann $100. But by applying another $100 an acre of inputs and reaping 90 bushels, Hagmann said net returns triple to $300 an acre.
With the cost of farming — including land — increasing, farmers need to produce higher yields and net profits, he said.
Not only does producing higher yields cost more in inputs, it’s also a lot more work, including split nutrient applications, which Hagmann said are key.
Risk is reduced by selecting fields with the highest yield potential based on the farmer’s experience, and only topping up inputs if the crop is doing well under good growing conditions, he said.
After selecting the right field, the farmer needs to set a yield target and know how many nutrients it will take to get there.
An 80-bushel canola crop removes 152 pounds of nitrogen an acre, plus 96, 160 and 86 pounds of phosphorus, potassium and sulphur, respectively, he said, quoting A Pocket Guide to 4R Nutrient Stewardship.
The next step is determining the level of residual nutrients and soil moisture at seeding time.
The only way to achieve high yields is through good soil health, Hagmann said. That means increasing microbial activity, improving soil aeration and water-holding capacity to encourage quick seedling emergence and more and bigger plant roots enhancing nutrient uptake.
To avoid cold soils and possible frost, Hagmann told reporters he seeds cereal crops first and aims to plant canola by mid-May, when soil temperatures are 10 C or above.
Seeds are planted one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep in rows nine inches apart.
Hagmann aims for a population of 10 plants per square foot, which is higher than what’s usually recommended.
“If you demand more yield, you need more seed,” he said.
He applies about two-thirds of his fertilizer with the seed and side banded at seeding time. The goal is to get nutrients as close to the seed as possible without damaging it.
“You don’t try to feed a pig on the other side of the trough,” Hagmann said.
If the crop is looking good, Hagmann will side band or dribble on more nutrients 40 to 50 days after seeding, which is usually around herbicide application time.
Depending on the crop and growing conditions he might foliar apply nutrients later on.
“I really believe in a split application later in the season,” Hagmann said.
“Two or three more applications (of inputs) yeah, that’s more demanding, it’s more costly, but at the end of the day it was incredibly more profitable.”
Split applications make sense even when applying less nutrients, because the crop makes better use of it, Hagmann told reporters.
Early insect, weed and disease control are important to yield too.
Hagmann said his advice applies to any canola herbicide-tolerant system — Roundup Ready, Invigor or Clearfield.
Last year Hagmann used a 34-foot swather to cut his canola.
“It was a struggle,” he said.
The swaths were neck-high. Hagmann credited a high plant population and adequate levels of potassium for keeping crop lodging manageable.
The combine travels slowly when harvesting a high-yielding crop like that, he said.
It also requires a good straw chopper followed by a light harrowing to handle the crop residue, Hagmann said.