Malcolm Morrison, from the Canadian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, was the international guest speaker at the two-day conference which kicked-off on Tuesday.A FOUR per cent rise in Canadian canola yields each year since 2000 has cemented its position as the second largest oilseed producer in the world.
Increased yields were the motivation behind recent studies outlined by research scientist Malcolm Morrison at the GRDC’s first Grains Research Update in Adelaide this week.
He highlighted a number of different studies undertaken in Canada that looked into the country’s increasing yields, with particular focus on genetics, climate and management.
“A combination of good management practices and good varieties has lead to the higher yields,” he said.
“Everything is an integrated approach, and when you get all the systems working together, the we get better yields.
“But how these new hybrids can go is the question, and how management will play a role.”
Mr Morrison said wheat was still the main crop in Canada at about 10 million hectares, but that canola was catching up on more than 8mha.
In 1986, Canada produced about 3.8 million tonnes of canola. Today, it has exceeded 17mt and is growing.
In 2014, 95pc of Canadian canola varieties were hybrids or GM crops, mostly RoundUp Ready, some Liberty and a bit of Clearfield.
From 1986 to 2013, Canada’s canola yield increased by about 2.4pc/annum or about 65pc in total across the 27 years.
High prices have been a driver in canola production, as have continuing yield increases on-farm, which Mr Morrison attributed primarily to the “development and adoption of hybrid varieties”.
Mr Morrison also analysed increasing canola yields prior to 1999 and since the massive uptake of hybrid canola.
“Farmer yield from 2000-2013 increased by 695kg/ha or 55kg/ha/annum – an increase of 4pc/annum,” he said.
Mr Morrison said nature had also given farmers a boost by increasing the amount of spring rain.
“Last year was supposed to be the hottest year on record, yet when we looked at our 10 prairie sites and looked at average temperatures the past 13 years, we couldn’t find any relationships between increase yields and temperature over the 13-year period,” he said.
“However we did notice there was a good relationship with precipitation, particularly during the months of April and May.”
Precipitation increased by about 4mm a year and yield increased by about 4kg/mm with April/May precipitation – right at crop establishment, he said.
“Farmers always say three good rains in May sets your crop,” he said.
Mr Morrison said precipitation was increasing yield by about 16kg/ha/annum, but that it wasn’t just precipitation alone that deserved all the credit.
“Precipitation interacts with good management,” he said.
“You can put all the nitrogen in the world on your canola, but if you don’t have precipitation, you can’t use it.”
Increased carbon dioxide levels also attributed to increased yields.
From 2000-13, carbon dioxide increased by about 25ppm, with 2015 expected to be over 400ppm.
“Plants react positively when exposed to carbon dioxide,” he said.
“And because of increased carbon dioxide, yield increased by about 3kg/ha/annum.”
Farmers also needed to understand how the right rotation had an effect on tonnages, Mr Morrison said.
“It was once common for prairie farmers to grow canola only every three years to reduce the weed burden,” he said.
“But farmers more recently like the herbicide-tolerant varieties and their high economic return, so they are shortening their rotations to grow it more frequently (sometimes even every two years).”
Mr Morrison said it encouraged a study into separating canola by different years in either a pea, barley or wheat rotation.
“The study highlighted that the longer you can rotate, the better,” he said.
“When canola was used on a two-year rotation, yields increased by about 9-14pc. Yet a three-year rotation resulted in a yield increase of 15-27pc.
“Blackleg also increased when you reduced the number of years between canola plantings.”
The studies also highlighted that canola planted after a legume was also best management, as it had a 10pc yield improvement compared to canola after wheat.
Urea use could also be reduced when introducing a legume into the rotation, up to 25pc.
Another way to reduce nitrogen use was through variable rate technology, Mr Morrison said.
Studies showed it could be cut by more than a third, increasing efficiency but also putting more money back into farmers pockets, he said.
Despite this, Mr Morrison said uptake of the advanced technology had been slow, possibly due to their narrow time-frame to apply fertiliser.
Mr Morrison’s presentation was in front of a 350-strong crowd attending the conference, which was followed by a major panel session on frost, and then concurrent sessions in the afternoon.
The GRDC updates will be held across Australia, with one being held at Murray Bridge tomorrow (Thursday).
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