There were about 33,000 acres of spring canola insured by Agricorp in 2021. Compared to 2020, total acres of spring canola decreased in regions south of Huntsville and increased in regions north of Huntsville. There were over 14,500 acres of canola seeded in Temiskaming District, which is a significant increase from 9300 acres last year and is the highest acreage since 2011 when 25,000 acres were seeded to spring canola.
Snow cover disappeared earlier than normal in most regions. In the northwest, soil conditions were dry through spring and temperatures were warm through April and May allowing producers to finish seeding early. In the northeast, conditions were dry in early April followed by frequent rainfall in late April and early May, and temperatures remained cool. Planting began in mid-April in most regions but seeding deadlines for crop insurance were extended because a frost event terminated over 5,000 acres of canola in the northeast and some in the northwest. Later seeding of canola and other crops was challenged by extremely dry soil conditions, resulting in slow and variable emergence.
As usual, flea beetle reached threshold in some fields and insecticides were applied. In the northeast, swede midge pressure was observed to be lower than usual and damage was mostly limited to side branches. As a result, insecticide application in the northeast was reported to be lower than usual. Producers in the northwest had a dry season contributing to significant insect pressure, including flea beetle, diamondback moth larva and grasshoppers. At this time swede midge has not been reported in northwestern Ontario.
In recent years, some producers in spring canola regions south of Huntsville have had low yields because of lack of rainfall and/or hot conditions. Early “stress bolting” was reported again this year in Bruce and Simcoe counties. Where this stress and consequent low yields are occurring year after year, and in combination with high insect pressure, producers are moving away from growing spring canola. Some are considering trying winter canola instead, which at this time has a lower risk of insect damage and drought stress. However, there are other potential risks with winter canola related to weather, soil type and pests such as slugs.
Harvest was somewhat delayed because of wet weather, and some fields were not harvested until October. Spring and winter canola are both included in the same crop insurance program, so where growing regions overlap (e.g. Simcoe, Bruce, Grey, Wellington counties and parts of eastern Ontario, etc.) we cannot, at this time, accurately report average yields for spring canola alone or winter canola alone. Initial yield reports during harvest were strong, but on average spring canola yields were significantly lower this year in Temiskaming (1,716 lb/ac) and Nipissing (1,962 lb/ac) compared to 2020. In all other regions north of Huntsville, including Cochrane and the northwest, average yields are comparable to last year (2,165 lb/ac combined average).
There were approximately 4800 acres of winter canola seeded in fall of 2020 and insured by Agricorp. Winter canola has been produced in many counties ranging from Simcoe to Essex, and Bruce to Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry. Where winter canola is seeded at the appropriate population and depth, into fields with good drainage and low clay content, and early enough to develop a taproot thicker than a pencil, winter and spring survival has generally been good across a wide geography.
Conditions were unseasonably warm through to the end of November and winter was relatively mild, so winter survival was strong. Warm conditions in early spring encouraged early bolting and flowering in the southernmost counties, which led to greater temperature stress when temperatures dropped again later on; this did not result in plant death or visible injury, just fewer flower buds. In areas north of Guelph the crop held off bolting and flowering until warmer temperatures arrived later in May, so flower buds were more numerous in these “northern” winter canola regions. Mercedes winter canola appears to handle temperature dips below -4 °C quite well during early flowering, although we have not yet observed the crop sustain more than a few hours at those temperatures.
Generally speaking, slugs are problematic in winter canola because it is planted following wheat and any residue left in the field provides an ideal habitat for slugs. Tillage to bury residue is the only way to manage slugs, but damage may still be observed in tilled fields when conditions are wet, in areas where some residue is left on the surface, or around the field perimeter. Cabbage seedpod weevil were not observed during the typical insecticide application timing early in the flowering period but were observed in some fields during late flowering. Weevils may have contributed to shatter losses, caused by the holes larvae make when they exit pods.
Yield reports received by OMAFRA were generally between 3,300 and 3,750 lbs/ac. Some producers enjoyed higher yields, primarily in Wellington County. Agricorp reported an average yield of 3,539 lb/ac in Chatham-Kent, and 2,715 lb/ac in Essex. Hail, wind and hard rains between pre-harvest herbicide application and harvest caused significant shatter losses in some localized areas, mostly in Essex County. The majority of fields were harvested in mid-July and double crop soybeans were planted on some fields. For some, winter wheat and canola were mature at the same time which is a logistical challenge. Slow harvest caused by lodging and green stems can be discouraging, particularly for producers that are new to canola. However, extremely high prices seem to make it worth the effort.
Over 10,000 acres of winter canola have been seeded this fall. Seeding no-till into wheat residue has led to significant losses to slugs in some fields; this practice is not recommended. Fall armyworm have also cleared off large areas of fields in southern counties, as they were able to thrive late in the season because of warm nights and days above their base temperature of 13 °C. Extremely wet conditions may cause delayed or poor emergence in some areas.