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Take Advantage of Pre-seed Prep Time

29 April 2011

CANADA - Canola seeded early usually has higher yield and quality than canola seeded late May or June. But there are two things you need to know about this statement.

First, crop insurance results and various studies show that yield reductions from delaying seeding are much smaller prior to mid May than after â€" so there is still time.

Second, the yield benefit from early seeding often depends on adequate stand establishment and uniform plant populations. If field conditions are not sufficient for proper drill function, seed placement and seedling survival, then early seeding will not have the same benefit as it would under good seeding conditions.

While waiting for field conditions to improve, growers could use the extra time to perform the following pre-seeding tasks.

Pick up seed and fertilizer. Check with the retailer to see if pre-ordered seed and fertilizer are available. If yes, you may want to take this opportunity to bring it home and have it ready to go. Save a minimum 500 ml (2 cups) from each seed lot in a seed lab bag. Record seeding date and rate, keep the blue seed tag, and store samples in a cool, dry place in a rodent proof container. In the rare event that stand establishment is inadequate, determining the cause will be a process of elimination. Properly stored samples may provide valuable information. Your local retailer may help with the sampling.

Know the TKW for each seed lot. Many seed lots will have the thousand kernel weight (TKW) printed on the bag or on a sheet of paper shrink-wrapped with the pallet. Use these TKWs to calculate a seeding rate for each seed lot. When TKWs are within one gram of each other, the grower may not notice a difference in plant stand when these lots are seeded at the same pounds per acre. But seeding rates should be readjusted when TKWs are more than a gram apart. A heavy seed lot with a TKW of 5 grams applied at lower seeding rate of 4 pounds per acre may not achieve the minimum plant stand for top yield potential. The chart below shows the relationship between seed weight, seeding rate and plant stand for a typical 50% seedling survival situation. Click here for more tables and more information.

Give the drill a complete inspection. Find a flat dry place to work, and get the drill leveled. Follow the instruction manual. Also inspect openers, hoses, tank gaskets, meter rollers and manifolds for wear. Check that the electronics work properly and are calibrated. For a detailed summary of drill prep, click here to read a Canola Council of Canada factsheet and click here for an article from the Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages archive. If you have a new drill, consider seeding wheat or peas first to work out the kinks prior to seeding canola.

Get a soil analysis. Soil nutrient levels will be unpredictable this year given the moist conditions in many fields last year and this spring. Nitrogen could be lower than expected. And a Saskatchewan soil test lab said sulphur levels, in general, are very low. If soil test results don't come back until after seeding has begun, in-crop applications can effectively top up sulphur and nitrogen to required levels.

Check fields. Some fields may still have pools of water. Others may be better drained and ready sooner. Check them all. This may be a year to seed based on which fields are ready first instead of which crops you want to seed first. Reassess whether the varieties you had chosen for each field are still suitable. If a long-season variety was planned for the field with pools of water, the variety may provide better results in a field ready sooner.

While checking fields:

  • Monitor soil temperature. Crop residue, shelterbelts and slope will make some soils cooler than others. Warmer fields may be ready to seed first. Use a soil thermometer to compare soil temperatures at seeding depth. Because soil temperatures fluctuate widely, take readings at 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. over a few days and average the results. Canola can germinate in soils as cool as 2 C, but it can take a long time and produce an uneven stand. A good starting point for seeding is when the three-day average is 4-5 C. The following chart, taken from Alberta Agriculture's weather site, shows how soil temperatures fluctuate throughout a day. Manitoba also provides soil temperature readings.

  • Scout for cutworms and wireworms. Dingy cutworms overwinter as larvae and will start feeding as soon as plants start growing. This is one cutworm species to look for this time of year. Click here for more on cutworms, including scouting tips, identification, and management measures. Wireworms will also feed on canola, and numbers could be especially high in fields recently taken out of forage or pasture. Use bait balls to scout for wireworms. Mix a cup of flour, 2 tablespoons of honey and a bit of water and form into golf-ball sized rounds. Bury bait balls 4-6" deep at 20 sites per targeted acre. Balls give off CO2, which attracts wireworms. Make sure to place bait balls in areas with no other food source, such as weeds, within a 3' radius. Mark where the balls are buried and check after a few days. Bring a magnifying glass to help identify wireworms and cutworms.
  • Assess weed growth. Everything is later this year, including weeds, but winter annuals are advancing and many early-season annuals are emerging. A pre-seed application of glyphosate or CleanStart (the only products registered for pre-seed application ahead of canola) can provide economical weed management. A post seeding/pre-emergence glyphosate application also works. Remember that MCPA and 2,4-D are not registered for use ahead of canola. There is a significant risk of crop injury even if growers have had successful experiences using these products in the past, because different conditions will affect breakdown rates (e.g. cooler temperatures, inadequate moisture, etc.)

These are good jobs to do every year before seeding starts. With a little extra time this year, growers can cover these tasks thoroughly and be ready to seed in full force when conditions allow. One key to success this spring will be a readiness to change plans as field conditions dictate. A long tow cable will also be handy. We hope you don't have to use it, but it helps to be prepared.

Looking for more information on early season insects? The Canola Council of Canada will host a webinar May 13 on the topic of "Early Season Insect Scouting - Cutworms and Flea Beetles." The time is 10:00 a.m. CDT. Click here to register. For more information, contact a Canola Council of Canada agronomy specialist in your region:

Kristen Phillips - Manitoba, [email protected] 204-761-2143

Jim Bessel - Central Saskatchewan, [email protected] 306-373-6771

Shawn Senko - Eastern Saskatchewan, [email protected] 306-270-9307

Clint Jurke - Western Saskatchewan, [email protected] 306-821-2935

Troy Prosofsky - Southern Alberta, [email protected] 403-332-1412

Dan Orchard - Central Alberta, [email protected] 780-777-9923

Doug Moisey - North Central Alberta, [email protected] 780-645-9205

Greg Sekulic - Peace Region, [email protected] 780-832-2382

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