Pod shatter resistant canola to put swathers out to pasture

Sixty per cent of Manitoba’s canola acres this year have pod shatter reduction technology, even though the innovation has only been available since 2014

New shatter-resistant canola varieties may hold the key to parking your swather. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Western Canadian farmers have adopted pod shatter reduction canola faster than expected — and industry officials predict the innovation, which is as much about harvest flexibility as straight cutting, will soon be on almost every acre.

“InVigor (canola from BASF), which is on more than half of the acres in Western Canada, this year over 70 per cent contains the (BASF patented) pod shatter reduction trait,” Brent Collins, BASF’s North American seeds marketing manager said in an interview Oct. 10.

“We predict by 2020, 50 per cent of the canola in Western Canada will be straight cut.”

That’s ahead of what a Bayer Crop Science official forecast in 2016 when he predicted 40 per cent of Western Canada’s canola would be straight cut by next year.

The purpose of all plants is to reproduce. Canola, an improved type of rapeseed, is well known for shedding its seed once mature and often maturity varies on the plant and across the field. That’s why swathing is recommended when 60 per cent of seeds have started to change colour.

But once cut, the crop still isn’t safe. Strong winds can scatter swaths making it hard for combines to pick it up. Meanwhile, pods may have dropped to the ground or split, spilling out the seed.

Why it matters: Canola is planted on more acres in Manitoba than any other crop and on average provides the highest gross returns. Innovations with the potential to boost canola yields, reduce risk and provide harvest flexibility are important.

The adoption of pod shatter reduction (PSR) technology in Manitoba has gone from zero to 60 in six years, Doug Wilcox, manager of research administration with the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC), quipped in an email Oct. 8.

MASC’s 2019 Variety Market Share Information shows 60 per cent of Manitoba’s crop insured canola was a PSR variety. In 2013 there were none.

MASC’s report shows the five most planted crop insured canola varieties in Manitoba this year were all InVigor, and three of them had the PSR trait, including the No. 1 variety L233P (LT) (PSR-R). It alone was grown on 1.4 million acres, representing 44.5 per cent of Manitoba’s 3.2 million acres of insured canola.

[Those top five Invigor hybrids, including No. 2, L255 PC (LT) (PSR-R), No. 3, L252 (LT). No. 4, L234PC (LT) (PSR-R) and No. 5, L230 (LT), were planted on 2.2 million or 69 per cent of Manitoba’s insured acres.]

Jamie Mills, Bayer Crop Science’s grower and channel marketing manager for canola, says farmers have flocked to pod shatter reduction canola faster than almost any innovation he has seen in his career.

Bayer is releasing four new canola hybrids next spring and three of them contain pod shatter reduction genetics, he said.

“My guess is that you’ll see 60 to 70 per cent straight cut (canola) in the next five years,” Mills said in an interview Oct. 10. “I think the genetics will be on every acre, but the actual guys going in and straight cutting will be three-quarters of them.

“It’s becoming a staple and almost table stakes when it comes to the breeding program now to have those genetics in your hybrids.”

Bayer is pairing up its pod shatter reduction offerings with earlier maturing varieties, which, according to Mills, don’t sacrifice yield.

“If you can get an earlier-maturing variety that has the pod shatter, the chances of allowing it to mature on its own to full maturity without frost, you are improving the experience the growers are having,” he said. “When you get a consistent and positive grower experience the adoption just spreads like wildfire.”

Mills, Collins and other industry officials agree the benefits of pod shatter reduction go far beyond straight combining canola.

“I would certainly say it has changed the way we farm,” Manitoba Agriculture oilseed specialist Dane Froese said in an interview Oct. 8.

“That crop has a better chance of making it into the bin than if it didn’t have that trait… It’s a kind of insurance option… ”

Canola Council of Canada agronomy specialist Angela Brackenreed agrees.

“We’ve had our fair share of volatile weather and those shatter-tolerant varieties have certainly handled that better at maturity than our standard varieties would,” she said in an interview Oct. 10.

PSR has a long list of benefits, Collins said. When maturity is uneven, the farmer can wait for the less mature plants to catch up.

There’s more harvest flexibility, including with other crops. If wet weather is coming and the canola is ready to harvest as well as another crop such as wheat, the farmer can harvest the wheat assured the canola can be harvested another day without seed loss.

PSR canola can mitigate the impact of late-season hail, wind and snow, he said.

Letting canola fully mature can boost yields too.

If fewer seeds hit the ground there are fewer canola volunteers making for less weed control.

PSR gives farmers options. They can still swath at 60 per cent seed colour change, swath later than that, or straight cut.

Whether a PSR variety has been swathed or straight cut there are less seed losses at the combine header, Brackenreed said.

“The work PAMI (Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute) did basically said for straight cutting the type of header is not as important as a shatter-tolerant variety when it come to losses at the header,” she added.

Farmers will probably have to adjust their combines differently.

“Generally speaking with really cured, swathed canola the limiting factor tended to be the back end of the machine, so on the sieves we’d overload the shoe and have losses because of that,” she said. “With straight-cut canola its (straw) is not nearly as dried down when we are harvesting it. The limiting factor tended to be the rotor or front end of the machine. So there’s the potential for a little bit more aggressive threshing required with straight-cut canola.”

With all the wet weather this fall farmers are reporting their standing canola is drier than the swathed, she said. However, swathed fields may be quicker to get on to.

Although crops can sprout standing, swathed crops tend to sprout sooner because moisture is trapped between the field surface and the swath, she added.

Farmers who haven’t tried PSR canola are understandably uneasy, Brackenreed said. But research shows it works. One study showed canola standing three weeks longer than usual in the fall suffered “negligible” losses, she said.

Brackenreed speculates if canola with the same genetics is swathed at 60 per cent seed colour change it will yield about the same as a PSR variety.

“I think where you will see very big yield differences is in a 30 per cent seed colour change versus a straight-cut scenario or a 60 or 70 per cent seed colour change scenario,” she said.

While PSR is a great innovation, farmers shouldn’t forget about other important variety attributes, especially resistance to diseases such as blackleg and clubroot, Brackenreed said.

For more details, visit MASC’s 2019 Variety Market Share Information (PDF).

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