Kristen Phillips already knew that combines capture more available yield when canola is cured and dry, but she was still surprised when she was harvesting one set of Ultimate Canola Challenge (UCC) plots this fall.
The Canola Council of Canada’s UCC program for 2016 aimed to help identify agronomically and economically optimal nitrogen (N) rates for canola in Western Canada, and how increasing base N rates by 25 per cent affects yield and profitability. Yield data from all sites were not fully compiled at press time, but Phillips, who farms near Brandon and co-ordinated the Manitoba trials, had one Manitoba site that produced some unexpected side results.
The site was at Hillside Colony near Justice, Man. In the middle of a 960-acre canola field, the colony planted four replicates comparing their check, which was 164 lbs./ac. of N, against the UCC’s 25 per cent increase, which was 205 lbs./ac. of N. The replicates were mile-long strips.
The colony called Phillips to come out for harvest day, which was September 2. She decided to measure off 1,000 feet from each strip and harvest that for the trial. A full mile was not necessary based on UCC protocols.
Phillips had a hunch that yields were going to be lower than expected, given the field was hailed twice. But she didn’t expect the trouble the combine would have getting through the crop. The Class 9 combine stopped twice during the first strip, then again in the second strip. “Seeds were ripe but the canola plant material was too green,” Phillips says. “But to keep the trial fair, we had to keep going and combine all strips on the same day.”
When weigh wagon results from each strip were tallied, average yield was 34.6 bu./ac. for the check strips and 38.6 for the higher-N strips. The yield difference was enough to pay for the higher rate of fertilizer in this one trial, even though the overall yields were fairly low due to the hail.
But that’s not why Phillips found the trial so interesting. That came later.
After September 2, it started to rain and rain. It rained for five straight days and the crop needed to dry out for another week or so before harvest could resume. On September 14, Hillside was back at the 960-acre field. They called Phillips. She decided to come out and take a look again. The remaining mile-long trial strips were still in place, less the original 1,000 feet. So she asked the colony if they would harvest the rest of each strip and weigh them individually as a second look. They agreed.
This time, average yields were 37.3 bu./ac. for the checks and 42.6 for the higher-N strips. This was a swathed crop. Seeds were not filling out more. Moisture went up 0.1-0.2 percentage points with the rain, but that would contribute less than 0.1 bu./ac. in yield. Therefore, the yield increase was not a seed maturity or seed moisture factor.
It is possible that the area covered by the first 1,000 feet was an overall lower-yielding area than the rest of each strip, but this particular part of the field was carefully selected for its uniformity. Phillips thinks the key difference was the obvious difference in threshing conditions. When the crop is too green, crop doesn’t thresh and separate properly. It doesn’t travel over the sieves as smoothly, and the fan can blow through and shake seeds loose as effectively as it would with drop crop material. This was already known, but for Phillips, this experience demonstrated just how big these losses can be.
“Now I realize the potential for losses when we push late into the night or get started when crops aren’t properly cured,” she says. “At the end of the night, when conditions are getting tough and you think ‘just one more truckload,’ go home, put the combine away and capture those extra bushels tomorrow.”
For the check strips representing Hillside’s whole 960-acre field, the difference in yield between tough conditions on September 2 and better conditions on September 14 was seven per cent. For the high-N treatment, the loss was over nine per cent. “For this field, harvesting in better field conditions was just as big a yield factor as adding 25 per cent more nitrogen,” Phillips says.
Purpose, protocols and results
The overall purpose of the 2016 UCC is educating farmers on the most effective way to do on-farm trials, while collecting data from these trials to share with the canola industry. The 2016 program started with 14 sites across the Prairies, however some were lost due to frost or hail. Results from harvested sites will be posted at canolacouncil.org. To visit the UCC page, click here.
The site also outlines the protocols for the N test. “These protocols can be used for testing almost any product or practice for those interested in testing something specific on their farm,” says Nicole Philp, CCC agronomy specialist and UCC manager. “An important part of doing trials is note collection throughout the season. It not only helps farmers spot any visual differences between treatments, but can help crop management decisions when it comes to pest control.”
UCC will continue in 2017. Growers interested in hosting trials on their farms can contact Philp at [email protected] or 306-551-4597. “Working with the CCC on these on-farm projects is an excellent way to get first-hand experience on how to do a proper trial,” Phillips adds.