The Agronomists, Ep 81: Meghan Moran and Jennifer Doelman on winter canola success


Spring planted canola is a dominant crop in Western Canada, but for Ontario farmers, the better option is winter canola. Still a minority crop, winter canola is gaining attention in the province, especially since the introduction of a new variety, Mercedes.

What does it take to grow this brassica, starting in the fall? There are a few similarities to spring canola, but a whole lot of differences. To tackle what it takes, we go to edible bean and canola specialist with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Meghan Moran, and agronomist and farmer, Jennifer Doelman.

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  • Winter canola is very early. Ideally, it should be harvested before winter wheat in Ontario
  • Plenty of interest in the crop, especially with strong prices and new genetics
  • This is not the 1980s winter canola, Moran says
  • Doelman is up near Renfrew, probably past the northern limit for winter canola, but God loves a tryer
  • She grows spring canola, too
  • Adding winter canola is all about rotation for Doelman
  • Let’s start at the beginning: when is it too soon to plant winter canola?
  • Moran says mid August until early September is OK, but you want the plant to get to about the 8-leaf, rosette stage going in to winter. Not too big, not too small
  • Winter canola needs good residue management and drier soils (good drainage)
  • Doelman has tried to do all the things wrong, and it didn’t go well
  • Heavy clay, poor drainage, lots of chaff spell disaster
  • Chaff is where the slugs hang out, which are a fall threat
  • Doelman puts winter canola on winter wheat acres — that can work
  • There’s really only one variety right now: Mercedes
  • It’s not herbicide tolerant
  • It’s very winter hardy
  • Moran is confident it won’t bolt ahead of winter. Definitely want to keep it vegetative going in to winter
  • Faster winter arrives, and the heavier the soil, the earlier you should plant
  • You want 5 to 7 plants per square foot — a little more sparse than you would spring canola
  • Why? Get that good root structure and keep that growing point low
  • The plants can heave over the winter
  • “Winter” kill can happen in the spring: heaved plants, exposed growing point, too cold and wet too long
  • Keep the seeding rate low — that’s a challenge for drills or planters without the right plates. It’s tiny seed!
  • Some success with mixing it with fertilizer, or getting the canola plates for the planter
  • Somewhere in the 180, 000 to 350,00 seeds per acre (lower end might be better)
  • Winter canola can yield above 70 bushels plus per acre, that’s a big driver for those who can make it work
  • Moran says the crop can look and smell very dead in the spring
  • Cut open plants and make sure the growing point is green
  • So long as the growing point is alive, even very ugly, dead-looking plants can yield very well
  • Canola needs about 600 GDD heading in to winter, but is a base 5 degrees C, not 0 degrees C like winter wheat

Clip 1: Canola School with Meghan Moran on residue and field selection

  • Let’s talk fertility. Does the crop need phosphorus, like winter wheat?
  • Phosphorus is important, but it needs more fall N than winter wheat. And plan ahead for sulphur, too
  • It’s a big sulphur using crop
  • It’ll need serious N in the spring, too
  • Stubble choices: does winter canola into winter wheat stubble make sense? You bet it can work
  • Corn after winter canola isn’t good
  • Keep an eye on nutrient draw down, and on mycorrhizae health of the soil
  • And now, pests
  • Slugs love winter canola. They also love residue
  • Slugs are homeless snails. They’re mollusks not insects, please don’t try and spray them
  • The slugs eat the treated seedlings and ground beetles eat the slugs and die, so don’t use a seed treatment if you don’t need it, please. Ground beetles are good
  • Flea beetles are a definite concern for spring seeded canola
  • Swede midge isn’t the issue with winter canola that it is with spring

This episode was cut short due to technical issues!

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